Review: The Coming Storm, Battersea Arts Centre ★★★

To borrow the words of Jean-Luc Godard, a story needs a beginning, middle and end, but not necessarily in that order. In Forced Entertainment’s new show for LIFT 2012, an anarchic explosion of the human need to tell stories, we are lucky if we get even this much. Fighting over a lone microphone, the company’s six tireless performers narrate and interject, stall and repeat. None of these stories are ever quite finished.

This is story time for the attention deficit generation; a mash-up of competing visual and aural distractions, where poignant narrative may be underscored by the beat of a drum or interrupted by a man in a crocodile suit. In many ways it reflects the unrelenting noise of modern life, in which our consumption of stories is rarely free from the intervening bleep of a text message or a sneaky check of our Twitter. Forced Entertainment also playfully riff on our received storytelling methods, with nods to autobiography, cabaret and the distorting narrative lens of Hollywood, repeatedly asking which movie stars would play the characters.

Beneath all the clowning and costume changes – the array of clothes visible on rails at the sides of the stage reminiscent of childhood dressing up, another stepping stone in our storytelling heritage – Forced Entertainment deploy some clever observations. The initial exploration of narrative conventions, delivered hilariously deadpan by Terry O’Connor, serves as a frame for the show, in which such conventions are imitated and subverted, and in the process our whole culture of storytelling is uncomfortably prodded at. There is, after all, something inherently a little odd about conjuring tales to tell to complete strangers.

This is not, however, quite clever enough to fully justify its own messiness. While chaos is clearly the point, a tongue-in-cheek confusion that Forced Entertainment openly acknowledge, at times the pandemonium comes close to losing its audience. Perhaps we’re still just too fond of a good story.

*** (3 stars)
Runs until 23rd June
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