Thoughts on Spectacular by Forced Entertainment, two months too late.
I saw it first at Riverside. I wasn’t in the best state for it – jet-lagged, and squeezed into the top left corner of a very wide auditorium. So yeah I slept quite a bit, but the bits I caught melted in a half-delicious, half-unbearable way into whatever half-dream had managed to start itself up. Agony, but exactly the kind of awkward, twilight world of fantasy, idiocy (man in skeleton, woman faking death) and down-to-earthness (waking up convinced you’re dribbling onto a neighbour) which they blend so seamlessly into their work. It felt like 2-3 hours, but was half that. Afterwards, coming down the steps, I heard two of the many younger audience members behind me saying ‘Yeah definately a lot better the second time round’. Anyhow, I left bruised and took the dark blue tube back to the North East of the city. The piece haunted me with its awfulness, it had found a way under my skin. I wasn’t sure whether this was good, but I felt myself cherishing the space it had found for itself there. Part of my head wallowed in the long, outrageously drawn out silences – long enough to fall asleep, wake up, and fall back asleep again – during which a masked skeleton would lament the very fact of his not being able to fill them. But my rational mind told me their play was crap, and I had a hard time talking about it with anyone.
Two weeks later (nearabouts) it was on down in Taunton. My mum lives nearby and bought two tickets – she found Exquisite Pain quite torturous but knows I speak highly of them so, in her typically brave way, decided to give them another go. She was hoping I’d join her. I seriously thought of opting out, and figured I had a good excuse, but something about seeing FE in the Taunton Brewhouse quite appealed. This was a theatre which, when I lived down there as a teenager, was the typical, regional venue hosting readings by people like Timothy West to a sea of grey hair. I was curious to see what it had become.
Had Mum not booked the tickets already we would have been panicking. In the new and fairly smart bar area (which spilled nonchalently into a large gallery space) there was a great mass of young, barely concealed and very well dressed excitement which wasted no time in piling into the auditorium as soon the doors were opened. This was the first clue to the evenings charms, though I was too caught up with it all to realise at the time. Compare the feeling before the show here with the Riverside (many people who figure they’ve lived through FE’s best years), and you start to wonder whether it isn’t, after all, ‘what you make of it’.
The hour and a quarter went past in a flash. It was a truly fantastic show, really one i’ll never forget. Robin kept what seemed a very diverse audience continuously aghast, appauled and yet charmed into sharing those silences, tasting those long, deep errors, allowing the giggles from up in the corner, knowing they’d revert to slack-jawed wide-eyes only to burst into little gasps again a bit later on. He was very funny, very human, totally unpatronising, very much at home, making a lot of sense out of so much nonsense, completely within his limits in what sometimes seems like the very end of structure.
It was a revelation to me, and said so much about circumstance, context and to what extent the backstory for any kind of presentation is taken for granted. The Brewhouse, it turns out, is a great theatre space too. New director Robert Miles is clearly on the case, and that audience deserves everything he can throw at them.