'The Coming Storm' review or 'I think we'll need a smaller teacup.'

'The Coming Storm', Forced Entertainment
Battersea Arts Centre, Thursday 20th June 2012

Remember that game you used to play as a kid, when you'd fold up a piece of paper, cut holes in it and open it out to reveal an abstract but pretty pattern? Forced Entertainment's latest show, 'The Coming Storm', reminds me an awful lot of that game; only they've cut so many holes in their script its practically been ripped to shreds.  

The show begins with a faux-earnest deliberation on what it takes to make a good story. With the actors lined up in a row, one lass huskily intones; 'A good story needs....a charismatic central character.' As she continues, she glibly undermines her own insights; 'A good story needs drama...who's going to pay the bills?' It's all expressed with the kind of casual indifference that almost always indicates a performer in utter control. Forced Entertainment can afford to play around with the conventions of drama because they know them very, very well. 

Initially, it's quite fun to be toyed with, as the company blatantly disregards the central tenets of their craft. This is a long-standing and highly respected company and you trust – and hope – they will take you somewhere interesting. So, whilst the actors preach about the importance of engaging characters, strong plot lines and taut drama, they set about creating a show devoid of all these elements. One by one, the cast members try to tell their own stories, only to be cut off just as they're gathering momentum - or, more often than not (most of the stories are purposefully dull), just as they're boring us to tears. It's a bit like a narrative relay – only they're not passing the baton between each other but snatching it away, screwing up the race before its even begun. 

The actors persistently and petulantly undermine each others' performances. We're repeatedly told to focus on the person speaking, whilst the real action rattles on behind them. As a lone narrator stutters through another cul-de-sac of a tale, the other actors goof about on stage. The drums are played a lot. The piano is rolled around like a weapon. Consciously crappy outfits (look – we don't even need props!) are pulled on and quickly discarded. Oh, and one actor tries to kill himself in lots of different ways, via a phenomenally crap electric chair and a woefully inadequate noose.

But this format, as consciously disruptive as it might be, begins to feel mind-numbingly monotonous. As the stories are stopped short – over and over again – one longs for a change in rhythm or even, heaven forfend, a new idea. It all grows incredibly grating and the uneasy question materialises: who is this show actually for? No doubt the audience's frustration is an intended bi-product of this show – perhaps meant to mock our instinctive and futile quest for meaning – but that isn't really enough for me. This company might be having a lot of theoretical fun but what about their audience? 'We don't need to follow the rules and what's the point, anyway, in a world that doesn't make sense!', the show screeches dully. But by this stage, no one's really listening.  


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