December 5, 2022

Review of Forced Entertainment’s ‘Void Story’, Contact Theatre, 17/11/2011

“I think we need anti-depressants”

Forced Entertainment’s latest offering is an innovative, visually stunning experiment in digital collage and sound. The piece is presented as a hybrid of live radio play and a ‘graphic novel come to life’. Richard Lowdon’s minimal recording studio is atmospheric without being distracting. Four voice actors are individually spot-lit and equipped with desks, scripts, microphones and a mixing desk. Overhead, Tim Etchell’s haunting animation draws the eye away from the voices at the desks. Crafted from ‘hack-saw pictures’, Flickr finds black and white snapshots; Etchell’s digital collage envisions a fractured dystopian landscape made from fractions of fractured cities. ‘Void Story’ is a contemporary fable of the epic misfortunes of two protagonists, struggling to survive in a cruel, broken society. The tale is fraught with danger, gore, and extreme, motiveless violence but most striking of all is the sinister apathy with which both victims and aggressors approach the nightmare events of the plot. At one point a small child blackmails Jackson, threatening to invent a story of sexual assault, unless he takes him to a funfair and agrees to “pay for EVERYTHING!” These darkly comic elements suggest a satire of our own corrupt, mercenary society.

Robin Arthur, Richard Lowdon, Cathy Naden and Terry O’Connor’s voice-acting seems to mock the unconvincing emotions of plummy actors, delivering despair and pain with tones ranging from deadpan to moderate surprise, but few expressions of realistic misery. Along with cartoonish ‘falling-down-a-deep-well’ screaming, this was a hit and miss stylistic choice that served sometimes only to make a joke that fell a little short of the mark. Despite ‘Void Story’ being a comparatively short Forced Entertainment show at an hour and twenty minutes, the epic nature of Kim and Jackson’s journey through sewers, a haunted hotel, wild forests, a nightmarish funfair, deserted housing estates, ganglands, and filthy alleys, begins to drag a little after an hour. The events had the same haphazard patchwork feel as the images which, as a narrative, is difficult to sustain if consistent with the visual concept. However, that concept is a fascinating exploration of the possibilities of media in performance, and the overall result is a brilliant cinematic experience. John Avery’s music is chillingly reminiscent of something from a David Firth animation, the perfect thing to match Etchell’s bleak urban wastes and reconstituted human faces. In truth, there is little to criticise about ‘Void Story’. Once again these international innovators in theatre-making have brought us a fresh and exciting piece that challenges generic boundaries and unpicks the conventions of performance.

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