[20040080] First Night

First Night

Forced Entertainment @ Royalty Theatre

8:00pm, Wed 10 Mar 2004

Score: 9

Short Review: Brutal

Brutal. There’s no other word for this piece from UK-based Forced Entertainment. A lot of the audience around me tended to use words such as “boring” and “shit”, but I’ve never experienced anything so confronting, so harsh… so brutal.

Initially, it seemed like First Night may be a comedy – eight characters appear onstage with forced grins and heavy makeup, bidding welcome. Slowly, the grins wear off, only to return suddenly. A breast appears. Characters drift offstage, returning wearing blindfolds. They start trying to read the audience’s minds.

And this is where it gets nasty, where the true confrontational nature of the performance is shown. The performers start pointing at various people in the audience and telling them how they’ll die. Initial prognostications have an amusing quality about them, the audience giggling; then one of the characters points at a woman and says, quietly, “a lump in your breast”. The room goes cold; she continues, pointing to other members in the stalls: “cancer… of the bowel. A car accident. Drowning.” Every so often, there’s a nervous (or stress-relieving) titter from a pocket of the crowd – but it is soon muted.

This goes on for about 15 minutes. 15 minutes of introspection. Tough.

Later pieces continue to focus on the morbid, whilst the characters demand that we do not think about it. “Don’t think about war, don’t think about death, don’t think about the death of your parents, don’t think about the death of your children.” Most of the performance is going on inside your own head; Forced Entertainment are just directing.

Indeed, the lightest moment of the performance was the performance of the Balloon Bimbo (inexplicably joined onstage by a blindfolded man with a saw) – her seedy languidity seemed both surreal and superior. But, for the most part, this performance felt like the cast were pointing their finger at you and laughing. Sad, pitiful laughter perhaps, but the joke was on you – you were the performer. Occasionally, the performers would have some fun at each other’s expense – the various levels of boredom during the “mystery?/illusion” sketch were quite amusing – but all the while, the dialog is still depressingly morbid.

Of course, not everyone likes to have the words “You’re shit, and you know you are” sung to them for a couple of minutes, and so this performance may not appeal to everyone. Or anyone. Except me. Challenging? – hell yes.

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