Last night I was privy to parts of Forced Entertainment’s 14-year old piece And on the Thousandth Night... via livestream from Lisbon, Portugal.
I want to say something that I feel was overlooked – it was not an exercise in storytelling, but in forgetting. Forget that there is anything but this stage, these people, princesses and so on. Forget that you have to think. Forget that there is anything but the theatre.
The work is a line of people wearing crowns and telling stories. Someone can interrupt at any point and say “Stop!” and then continue their own story. It hurts to point out that this monumental work is really just a theatre game. It’s played in rehearsal rooms everywhere - just not for 6 hours. The difference: every now and again an invisible hand intervened and curated specific moments and stories that were, as if by magic, allowed more air time than what was afforded others. These moments were inevitably shocking, sometimes violent, and interrupted the flow of English banter and piss-taking that characterised the rest of the dialogue. So one moment we were in an enchanted forest where no-one could move for about 20 minutes of re-starting, and then suddenly, we were a plane dropping a long, slow bomb.
The strength of the work relies almost entirely on getting these curated moments to drop in a way that was meaningful, and not forgotten by the time the browser is refreshed. At its worst, the effect is like reading media – you get the fluffy kittens and bunny rabbits, and then a flash of hyper-authentic catastrophe sometimes on the same page, sometimes the same header. At its best, it operated as a metaphor for such – for the violence of contemporary narration.