A production that engages in endless speculation about the future becomes repetitive – this should have been foreseen
Terry O’Connor and Robin Arthur: artfully lulling performers
Project Arts Centre, Dublin
One of the few things we can say about the future, with any degree of certainty, is that many years from now we will still be trying to predict it. This is not a pastime we do well, forever seeing a horizon of flying cars or apocalyptic wastelands, rarely seeing what’s around the corner. In art, however, future forecasts are invariably about present concerns: the conveyor-belt consumerism of the 1930s magnified in Brave New World, the internet-tethered simulations of The Matrix.
The influential contemporary theatre company Forced Entertainment here engage in similar speculations, albeit with fewer special effects, in a mode of performance familiar from the company’s seminal works, Speak Bitterness and Quizoola! In those shows, with unfussy delivery and engagingly modest means, performers recited litanies of text, sometimes for up to 24 hours, imparting all possible confessions and questions. Here, within the space of an hour, we get all possible futures. A woman and a man (Terry O’Connor and Robin Arthur) step cautiously onto a wooden pallet, festooned with fairground lights, as diffident and smartly dressed as a couple on an awkward date.
“In the future,” he begins, “we will all be ruled by one great governing body.” “Or,” she counters, “in the future, the world will return to a feudal system.” That “or” is a repeating pivot point, beginning every sentence and spelling out director Tim Etchells’s rules of engagement. In improvisation, stories develop through an affirmative, “yes, and . . . ” Here, the future is always contradicted or modified: no, but . . .
O’Connor and Arthur are artfully lulling performers, but the scheme has an irksome consequence for the rhythm of their performance and relationship. When an early flurry of sexual speculation bats back and forth – in the future there will be no need for men, or there will be a minority of indulged men, or a superior alien race will arrive to usurp them – it’s as riveting as overhearing a couple’s argument.
Yet Etchells rarely mines these richer veins of subtext, and instead of structure, the production seems to possess merely sequence.
It’s often fantastically diverting (our clones will get together and bitch behind our backs), quietly political (future generations will never forgive us for our treatment of the planet) and appealingly self-aware (“in the future, things will be pretty much the same as they are now”). Finally, though, without rhythmic variation, it becomes repetitive, then fatiguing, as though the future has simply run out. Could nobody see this coming? Until Saturday