Sunday, 3 November 2013

Forced Absences


It is a tough thing for a cultural kingpin to admit: I was in the wrong place on Friday night. Sure, there was a certain pleasure in seeing my old favourites, Forced Entertainment, remind the Tramway of past glories and future despair. Once upon a time, Bloody Mess was the catalyst that moved me from being a lusty young Latin teacher towards becoming the creepy old critic I am today. Last week, they took to the Tramway twice (The Coming Storm had the full team, Tomorrow’s Parties was a conversation, perm two of six from the gang). They conjured up the memory of how potent a theatrical presence they could be – like the poking the ashes of a past conflagration, searching for past passions.

Anyway, I’m not here to mourn Forced Entertainment – both shows were good examples of what they do, and there’s no point in expecting another Bloody Mess (it was a life-changer, and too many of them are as bad as not enough). It might have felt a little safe (breaking theatrical convention, being pessimistic about the capability of humans to master their destinies: they did it before and better), and while both shows might have been a little long, the students in the audience better not be discounting what they saw.

I am here to moan that I wasn’t at the Briggait: 85A were doing some kind of sharing. I wasn’t there, I didn’t see it, but I have heard cool things about a 3D laser effect, a blindfold aerialist and a slightly saucy fairy tale. I can’t say whether 85A are delivering on the promise of the line-up. It’s just that while Forced Entertainment are on the verge of becoming a nostalgia trip (or a museum piece, a source-book for makers), 85A are the best bet for the future wave of Dynamic Glasgow Theatre.

(Back in the day, after Bloody Mess, the largest part of Glasgow’s younger theatre makers either copied or struggled not to copy: even marginal FE visits, like the Void Story that arrived during the National Review of Live Art, inspired many of the youth to claim a pessimism that really belonged to a once essential vibrant company shading into middle-age)

(Not that there is anything wrong with what FE are doing now: the slightly weary commentaries on life are appropriate for an aging company and taking too long, repeating ideas, teasing the audiences by never reaching a climax: it keeps them a little indigestible, which is the point of being a provocative artist)

(In my middle years at The Skinny, I made a point of calling them The Overrated Forced Entertainment. It was unkind, especially for a company who had inspired me so heavily, but reflected my own resistance to the process of hagiography that was being encouraged… nothing was going to come close to Bloody Mess but their History of the World had less impact that a title like that demanded… Void Story was so bitter, it smacked of middle-class performers taking a holiday in someone else’s misery)

(85A may never deliver on their promise, may never be more than a grand collective, or remain in film and events, and never achieve any theatrical brilliance. But it is the seeds, the signs of life and the breadth of enthusiasm and talent that they are engaging)

(Spectacle, which had a more intimate atmosphere was a partial return to form – instead of having a big show, they described it. This lent the performance a self-effacing wit. It took the pressure off to recreate the wild ferocity of Bloody Mess. Within a year, a local company who ought to have known better, copied this approach. They tried to excuse it by saying that they intended to ‘do the big version.’ But despite its charms, this show was evidence for how far in hock to FE Glasgow remained. It might be better to retreat than stifle another generation… it may not be the best night out, but it is saving Arches Live! from another five years of photocopies)

(There was plenty of fun and energy in those years, mind. The copying was both tribute and attempt to grapple with the implications of Bloody Mess. After it, doing the usual was not going to be possible…)

(And most of the imitation was in the form of strategy, not content: a Fish and Game show that owed much to Spectacle investigated more than just theatrical absence. It was a work-in-progress, too)

(85A are in a liminal space between theatre and film and visual art and happening and music and sound art and… There is no reason for them to be heralded as the future of any one art form but in this mixture, a move back to Total Theatre that I bet Wagner would appreciate, they have the Shock of the New)

(How did Bob Dylan feel in 1965? How did he feel in 1984? What does an artist do with potential, what does an artist do with legacy?)

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