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A CurtainUp London London Review
Bloody Mess

I can't sit here chatting all night. Someone's got to clear up this bloody mess.
---- Richard
Bloody Mess
Claire Marshall
(Photo: Hugo Glendinning)
In 1980s Sheffield, with high unemployment and social deprivation,Forced Entertainment found a blank canvas to develop their own uniquely innovative theatre. Flouting convention and defying categorization, they explored the physical and the visual with non-text based shows which shamelessly mined what is normally seen as 'low culture', notably television channel surfing. Whilst North England was suffering from the uncompromising economic policies of the Thatcher government Forced Entertainment offered their own creative subversion. Now, the company are celebrating their 20th birthday with a revival of last year's hit "epic rocktacular" Bloody Mess.

It is not difficult to see why this supremely chaotic show has been chosen as their commemorative flagship. Tim Etchells, the Forced Entertainment's founder and director, writes: "For us, the mess and its structured exuberance is something of a manifesto; an insistence that theatre can be more than drab story or literary rhetoric, that its heart lies in play, in liveness and in the event".

Certainly, no one could accuse this show of drabness. The evening begins with two solemn clowns silently battling as they rearrange chairs in an ode to anti-teamwork. They gradually and meticulously speed up, until it descends into violence and an all-out chair war. When the chairs are finally arranged in a row facing the audience, the rest of the company emerge to take position and introduce themselves. In turn, they take the microphone and, in caricatures of the individual artistic ego, they each tell us their own aspirations for their performance. For example, one wants to be a sensitive but virile romantic lead, another just a virile one. One hopes that he will be seen as symbolic, another as enigmatic. One is convinced that he is the star, another that the whole audience will desire her. One of the morose clowns tells us simply: "Hello, good evening, my name is Bruno. I hope you will find me very, very funny".

The following action is amorphous and fragmentary, confusing and electrifying. In coexistent but distinctly individualistic vignettes the actors each do their own thing. Among others, there is a delinquent, popcorn-throwing gorilla, one clown who does impressions of weapons and another who tries to tell the history of the earth. A "beautiful silence" is thwarted by the disruptive interruptions of the others. Cataclysmic shifts of tone abound. At one point, the peppy cheerleader takes her peppy encouragement too far as the clowns fight: "Beat him to a pulp, Bruno!" There is a deliberate lack of artistic coherence or integrity, a celebration of shambolic unruliness or, in other words, mess.

The show encompasses a breathtaking emotive range: there are moments which are terrible, uproarious and sublime. It will make you laugh, frustrate you, anger you, unsettle you and move you. Having said this, it was divisive performance. Quite a few of the audience walked out, but a similar number gave it a standing ovation.

This company is energetic, spectacular and ridiculous. They wrench the audience from black humour into unexpected despair. A definite taste for the absurd is required for this outlandish, defiantly anarchic evening from one of the most important innovative theatre companies in Britain. For gluttons of chaos, Forced Entertainment is presenting their London premiere of Exquisite Pain developed from work by the French conceptual artist Sophie Calle, alongside Bloody Mess.

Bloody Mess
Devised by Forced Entertainment Directed by Tim Etchells

With: Robin Arthur, Davis Freeman, Wendy Houstn, Jerry Killick, Richard Lowdon, Claire Marshall, Cathy Naden, Terry O'Connor, Bruno Roubicek, John Rowley
Design: Richard Lowdon
Cinematography: Robin Thorburn
Lighting: Nigel Edwards
Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes with no interval
A Forced Entertainment production
Box Office: 020 8237 1111
Forced Entertainment booking Bloody Mess in repertoire with Exquisite Pain at the Riverside Studios, Hammersmith W6 until 6 November 2005
Both productions Contact Theatre Manchester 9th to 12th November 2005
Both productions Warwick Arts Centre Coventry Exquisite Pain only 16th to 18th January 2006
Exquisite Pain Project Arts Centre Dublin 20th and 26th January 2006
Bloody Mess Halle G, Vienna, Austria, 3rd to 5th November 2005
Bloody Mess UCLA Live Los Angeles 1st to 4th December 2005
Bloody Mess On the Boards Seattle 8th to 11th December 2005
Reviewed by Charlotte Loveridge based on 25th October performance at Riverside Studios, Crisp Road, London W6 (Underground: Hammersmith)
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©Copyright 2005, Elyse Sommer.
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