Berlin, you don’t even know how lucky you are. The crème de la crème of international performance makers fly in from all the corners of the globe on a regular basis to lay their theatrical gems at your feet. For dirt cheap prices.
The savvy, forward-thinking and carefully-selected programming at Kreuzberg three-in-one theater complex HAU includes one such company of theatre makers – the Sheffield-based group Forced Entertainment. The three-night run of The Coming Storm – devised by the performers, directed by Tim Etchells, and premiered in Essen last year – is already sold out, but their ‘optimistic melancholy’ is sure to cycle back through Berlin relatively quickly.
The Coming Storm starts gently enough, as perhaps a storm would, with six performers (Robin Arthur, Cathy Naden, Richard Lowdon, Claire Marshall and Terry O’Connor plus Phil Hayes) facing front, watching and being watched. Terry – we know all of their names by the end of the piece, we feel we know more than their names by the end of the piece – lists all the elements of what a story SHOULD be, what it should contain: heroes, heroines, a silence … broken. What then follows is a myriad of stories that attempt, we presume, to satisfy Terry’s list.
What Forced Entertainment know, however, is that telling a story can never be simply formulaic, not when human beings are involved. Their stories are interrupted, upstaged, pushed in different directions, forsaken, accompanied by appreciated or unwanted background music, shouted or told through belly laughs. At times it’s like watching squabbling siblings, at other times it’s like listening to the toothless old guy who’s sat in the same spot at the local Eckkneipe since before the Wall came down tell you about the price of fish.
There is a recurring story of a Sophie’s Choice-style scenario, where the mother must choose one of a family to feed when all the rest will die from hunger. This story serves as a symbol for Forced Entertainment as a family and the attention for which we all hunger. The human condition is explored in as many stories as they can muster, but most powerfully, in the ensemble’s interactions; the ennui, the repetition, the awareness, the friendships and rivalries. They are like a familiar WG, in which we never lived but recognise only too well, or a group of kids we would have wanted to befriend, pulling out clothes from a dressing-up box and still running round the playground after the whistle had been blown.
Forced Entertainment’s five core members began working together in 1984 and their ‘seriously playful work’ has taken many incarnations usually starting from improvisations around fragments, physical or abstract. And nearly three decades later, the ensemble continues to bring a fresh understanding of performance that shakes up the shards of our own memories and reminds us of the joy of play.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Want to see a performance that’s sold out? You probably can. Most theaters reserve tickets weeks in advance, which means there’s always some that aren’t picked up. Show up 30-60 minutes in advance and put your name on the list or pick up a number. Student discounts still apply.