Preview: Tomorrow’s parties

Matt Badham gets to explore utopian and dystopian visions with theatre group Forced Entertainment’s two-person show

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Performance group Forced Entertainment has been challenging audiences since 1984. This Sheffield-based, avant garde collective produces pieces that are a world away from being traditional plays. As a company, it’s well known for disrupting theatre’s conventions through non-linear narratives and the juxtaposition of different performance styles.

“Over the variety of projects that we do, there are several different strands,” notes Tim Etchells, Forced Entertainment’s artistic director. “One of them is mad collages of visuals and sounds and stories and things. These are very unruly and chaotic, and the rules are not always apparent. In this category I’d include work like The Coming Storm, which we toured last year. Then there’s a strand of more focused, simpler and more intimate work, and now Tomorrow’s Parties definitely fits into that category. It’s two performers. It’s an hour and ten minutes. It’s focused on talking.”

In Tomorrow’s Parties, a man and a woman stand surrounded by coloured lights on a makeshift fairground stage and speculate about the future.

“Originally we wanted to do a piece that was going to be a series of stories that would swap backwards and forwards,” explains Robin Arthur, who appears in Tomorrow’s Parties. “We wrote quite a lot of nice stories, but they didn’t really exchange terribly well. Then we just started improvising these predictions or speculations about how the future will be. And that felt like the right path for this particular show.”

These possible futures range from one in which a group of people share the same body due to population issues to another in which men who are “superior in every possible way” arrive from an alien planet.

“When we were doing some of the research,” says Terry O’Connor, the second performer in Tomorrow’s Parties, “I found this great thing. It was like a hope or optimism scale. It’s a scientific, psychological test that people do to measure how hopeful they are. I think I scored as quite a hopeful person.”

“Whereas I’m a sort of pessimist, I have to say,” reveals Arthur.

It seems appropriate that the piece’s two performers fall at opposite ends of the hope scale. Tomorrow’s Parties is less about making accurate predictions of the future than it is about examining what those predictions say about people’s hopes and fears.

“It’s not experts,” says Etchells, who has directed the piece. “It’s just two people trying to spin through as many potential configurations of the future as possible.

Tomorrow’s Parties was originally commissioned for a festival in Fribourg in Switzerland and the theme that year was the topic of hope. That started us thinking about the future and whether we had hope or were fearful.”

It’s arguable that Forced Entertainment is, as a company, especially suited to an exploration of the future. In a traditional three-act play, you would probably pick one future as your backdrop and then tell a story about it. Forced Entertainment’s rather unconventional approach means that it can consider many possible futures.

“In the end it’s about the debate itself,” says Etchells. “It’s the act of showing two people grappling with what might happen in the future, which wakes that same process in the audience because it’s something we all do anyway – either by wondering about what is going to happen on a personal level to you and your family, or by reading newspaper headlines and wondering what is going to happen to the world.”

The future is an almost constant presence in the discourse of modern life, at least as far as Etchells is concerned.

“You realise that from the news, science-fiction movies, television and all sorts of other places we have absorbed. We’re all carrying that. It could be a very bleak, post-apocalyptic future, a government surveillance state or a utopian idyll.”

Tomorrow’s Parties is on 15-16 Oct, LICA, Lancaster and The Contact Theatre, Manchester from 30 October until 1 November

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