There’s a Storm brewing

The Coming Storm, Forced Entertainment production
The Coming Storm, Forced Entertainment production

HAVING road tested it around Europe, international theatrical innovators Forced Entertainment present their latest show in their home city of Sheffield next week at the start of a UK tour.

In The Coming Storm they tangle and cross-cut multiple stories with their trademark black humour, collage of arresting images and anarchic performance style.

The distinctive elements of The Coming Storm appear to be competitive storytelling and live music on stage.

One of the first decisions that the company made was that the music should be played live by the performers, says Forced Ent’s Claire Marshall.

“We always wanted to be a band and the only reason we didn’t become one was no one could play but we did have this punk ethic,” she smiles.

“This time, having made the decision, we first went for xylophones which according to my sister who is musical is what you start kids on. We tried playing them and couldn’t get a note out of them.

“We were working in a space which had a piano in the corner and Cathy and I started tinkling around with it and revisiting what we had done as children.

“It was doodling really and gradually we started adding to it,” continues Marshall. “In the same way we play around with text ideas, it grew from there.”

It suggests something akin to the excruciating experience of listening to a child’s first practices on a musical instrument, but Marshall insists it is not discordant. “You don’t have to be a trained musician to pick out the basic chords.”

Marshall and fellow Forced Ents regulars Robin Arthur, Cathy Naden, Richard Lowdon and Terry O’Connor are augmented by Phil Hayes who has lent his experience of playing in bands. Resident sound designer and composer John Avery has also been involved.

And so to the text, devised in the company’s tried and tested method. From love and death to sex and laundry, from shipwrecks to falling snow, personal anecdotes rub shoulders with imaginary movies, and half-remembered novels bump into distorted fairytales. 

“We first had the idea of a large narrative and soon got fed up with that,” says Marshall. “We began to question why one story is more important than another?” Instead a mishmash of stories emerges with people’s memories of plots of novels being hijacked by someone else.

As one performer undercuts another the question of authority turns to chaos.

“One moment someone is telling a serious story, someone else is behaving like an idiot. It is up to the audience to decide their relationship to the performers.”

You may be hearing something completely rational while people are running around the stage in crazy costumes. “The crazy world steals from the rational,” says Marshall, “and to feel like you can blur those worlds feels like a move forward.”

Forced Entertainment present The Coming Storm at the Lyceum Theatre on Wednesday.