Samuel Beckett Centre
THE COMING Storm begins with a lecture about storytelling. A good story should have a strong beginning, we are told, and a charismatic central character, elements of mystery, and silences that gets broken. Of course, Forced Entertainment will flout every one of these conventions in this devised, impressionistic performance, which offers fragments of stories frustrated in their telling in a deliberately anti-linear approach that never comes together as a coherent whole.
House lights remain up as the ensemble cast of six emerge from the wings in their casuals, smiling wryly at the audience as if to say: “Well here we are, what are you going to do to entertain us?” Between the offered dictums of narrative technique, they take turns to tell us their stories, which range from the absurd to the mundane, sometimes within the one tale. Sharing a single microphone, they interrupt each other and undermine each other, all the while training their attention on the audience with an unsettling dead-eyed stare.
The stage is flanked by a pair of clothes rails hung with glittering costumes and a variety of musical instruments, which offer the audience a promise of something more theatrical, and as the stories become more fantastical so, too, do the company’s modes of distraction. The women get undressed and dance provocatively, the piano keys are tinkled and bashed, and a series of surreal images grab the focus of our gaze: a writhing crocodile, an embodied tree, a whirling ghost, a bare-chested devil. The imagery does not echo the contents of the stories in any literal way, but their phantasmagorical unpredictability mirrors the uncertain landscape of the worlds – true and unreal – that the performers share with us.
If there is a theme to The Coming Storm, you might identify it as fairytale in the Grimm sense of the word: the stories are full of missing children, deceptive forests, fatal misunderstandings, and a sharp awareness of mortality and ageing. However, this is Forced Entertainment, which has delighted in denying audiences the catharsis of concrete interpretation for the near-40 years of its existence. For those coming to the work for the first time, it might be reassuring to know that The Coming Storm, with its cabaret-ish feel, is actually more palatable than most of the company’s previous work, if no less confounding.
– Sara Keating