“In the summer when the earth changed, it rained for five months and on the night the rain stopped, a silence fell like we’d woke up in a silence from a dream…”
On a crude wooden stage, a group of five performers use a semi-translucent curtain, whisked backwards and forwards to reveal the fragmentary traces of a single apocalyptic night. Read narratively, the piece shows a night of crisis which is perhaps both personal and global. The invoked 'scenes' include a chaotic, almost nonsensical TV newsroom, a domestic space in which the walls themselves are always in motion, and a panoramic glimpse of many characters presented via cardboard signs that bear names, such as THE HYPNOTISED GIRL or ELVIS PRESLEY.
These fragments become texts with which the performers struggle, attempting — not always successfully — to overcome the hardships of theatrical representation, language and memory. The struggle to present and comprehend, and its opposite — a nervous reluctance to continue — drive the piece along. As its central methodology, the piece uses the act of arranging and rearranging texts, images and space so that new patterns, narratives and meanings emerge.
The game of dressing up and using the cardboard signs to name oneself later became the basis for the durational performance 12 am: Awake & Looking Down (1993).
© Forced Entertainment 1992. Theatre performance.
Conceived and devised by the company
Performers: Robin Arthur, Richard Lowdon, Claire Marshall, Cathy Naden, Terry O'Connor
Direction: Tim Etchells
Text: Tim Etchells
Assistant Director: Nick Crowe
Design: Richard Lowdon
Lighting Design: Nigel Edwards
Soundtrack: John Avery
Emanuelle Enchanted Clip
Tim Etchells on Emanuelle Enchanted
Terry O'Connor on Emanuelle Enchanted
Wherefore is this night distinguished from all other nights
“With every tug a new image is created ... a wonderful little evening ...with lots of wit and imagination.”
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
“Emanuelle Enchanted poses critical questions about the role of fiction and fantasy in our lives. Forced Entertainment manipulate raw physicality, text and kitsch dance to provoke wonder, examine theatrical process and investigate urban experience.”
“Funny and accessible - using people and space as machinery to express everyday realities in quite unexpected ways. The piece builds to a great apocalyptic arch of doubt, shored up by the biblical resonance of question, "wherefore is this night distinguished from all other nights", and ending with the blissful, relinquishing realisation that the plurality of modern life, its dangers and its seductions, mean there can be no more easy answers.”
“A brash and beautiful work.”
Girl about town
“They drift like depressives in a diazepam dream.”
“The pageant of cultural entropy is animated by muscular, attractive survivors.”
“Frantic, chaotic, erratic.”
“Tacky, sad costumes superbly counterpoint the starlit backdrop and the dense, lovely text.****”
“Puzzling but facinating piece of performance art”
Manchester Evening news
Programme notes and essays
A programme note from dramaturge David Tuschingham on the occasion of the restaging of Emanuelle Enchanted in 2000 can be read here.
Five years ago I spent a day somewhere in the bowels of the National Sound Archive looking at videos. One stood out, by Forced Entertainment, a company whose existence I was aware of but had never actually seen, doing a show called Emanuelle Enchanted. Within about ten seconds I sensed that I'd been missing something. Seeing Forced Entertainment for real became an urgent personal priority.
A few weeks later they brought their latest touring show to the ICA, something called Speak Bitterness. The show in the video had thumping guitars, performers repeatedly changing costumes at a feverish pace and quoted performance clichés with ironic relish. Speak Bitterness was nothing like it. The mood was much calmer, more reflective. The seven performers were all neatly, almost formally dressed and they seemed to acknowledge our presence as an audience the whole time. They talked about themselves. "We did this..." "We did that..." Clearly not everything they said was true. But which statements were true and which ones were lies? How could you tell the difference? And did your guesses (because that's what they were) actually reveal more about your own judgement-making processes than the people on stage? Who were "we" anyway?
That evening was a revelation. It was one of the most intense participatory experiences I have had as a member of a theatre audience and yet that participation on an imaginative level was elicited with the most minimal theatrical means. Like Emanuelle, Speak Bitterness. had lines so sharp I can still quote them. But this live performance went further. It changed my awareness of why it is I go to the theatre.
Forced Entertainment have made performance less about what it gives you than what it helps you find yourself, where ambiguity is an opportunity and a pleasure rather than an annoyance, where, suddenly, a moment of absolute stillness can be the most exciting thing that can happen on stage anywhere. Liking them has become a key test of my theatregoing friendships.
And since 1995 there have been so many different ways of encountering the company; not just a new touring show every year, there have also been gallery installations and site-specific durational pieces to visit, web sites to go to and digital works to be navigated. Forced Entertainment's increasingly diverse output feels more and more like one massive, glorious and unique art work, simply Being Forced Entertainment.
A key ingredient in this is the group's astonishing longevity, the fact that Cathy, Deborah, Richard, Robin and Tim were already being Forced Entertainment in 1984. Even Claire, the most recent member of the company has been with them over a decade now. In this period they have entirely redefined what it is to be a theatre company - to such an extent that the term now feels ludicrously inapplicable. It's certainly difficult to imagine any company starting out now in similar circumstances hoping to last anything like as long.
This shared history inspires both wonder and, as someone who came to the work some ten years in, a certain fascination with the question of whether if I'd seen the work then I would have liked it as much as I like the work now.
Tonight's performance of Emanuelle is unlikely to provide a definitive answer. One glance at the faces on the video is enough to remind me that the performers you'll see on stage tonight are very different people from the ones they were in 1992. Watching the tape again, at home this time with kids bouncing up and down on the sofa along with the music, I find myself distracted from the beauty of the text and the elegance of the show's dramatic structure by concern at the physical demands of the piece. Can they do it without doing themselves some sort of injury?
The fact that they want to I somehow find deeply inspiring.
Read the programme note for the 2000 restaging by Forced Entertainment’s Artistic Director Tim Etchells here.
In the summer when the earth changed it rained for five months and on the night the rain stopped a silence fell like we'd woke up in a silence from a dream.
We made Emanuelle Enchanted one year when there were only revolutions spilling out from Eastern Europe and across the TV. One year when the first of us was pregnant. When we scanned endless films on video. When someone recalled the lines of the Jewish Passover ceremony. One year when the music from Tom & Jerry cartoons rang in our ears. When the skins were tighter. Eyes brighter. When the future seemed distant. When the taste of time was different. You can see it on the video from 1992. Shot on SVHS, as if that, in itself, weren't enough to date it.
When we sit down to watch the performance tape for rehearsal purposes it looks like a different set of people, a broadcast from Mars. But it is only eight years that have passed.
We started from an unpromising porn movie titled Goodbye Emmanuelle, the third and doubtless the worst in the series, a dubbed blend of soft-core philosophizing about freedom and sexual liberation. We enacted the movie for weeks and then finally abandoned it. Keeping only a residue of over-lit trash; the name from the title and a handful of references scattered through the performance.
We started again with a broken narration, the clumsy framing of a night of crisis perhaps both personal and global, a sequence of events which can't exactly be real or remembered, cartoons come alive. A series of disagreements about how to tell it, where to start, what to tell. The curtain running backwards and forwards, a shabby but gorgeous theatre stage. Hesitations, costume changing, apparent chaos, things hidden then revealed.
We started again from lists of slogans, headlines and copyrighted catch-phrases all played straight to video-camera and we soon found ourselves in some TV newsroom under siege or attack, a distorted media memory of those early 90s East Europe revolutions. We played broadcasts phrased by men and women who had not slept for days. A glimpse of shadows, fake guns and sleeping people. We played broadcasts on air all night and day. A news of rumours. A news of staying alive. We played broadcasts whose only real signal is that they continue to happen. A news of distortion. A news of fragments. A news of cryptic strap lines; advance guards for the soon-to-come Capitalist invasion. A news of night.
We started again with a catalogue of names scrawled on cardboard signs. From Jack Ruby to A Stewardess Forgetting Her Divorce through Frank (Drunk) and Lost Lisa in between. The games became one in which the performers changed and re-changed their identities using a vast store of jumble sale clothes and the cardboard signs to name themselves.
And from all these beginnings we made a performance called Emanuelle Enchanted.
Like spying on some previous version of yourself, you dig through notebooks/piles of text, sort through the bin liners of the costume cupboard, take a trip out to the run down garages near the allotments where the scenery is stored.
You search and try to find some shape of your thoughts back then. It's a struggle, but if nothing else your body remembers what it was like to stand in this construction, on this stage, behind this translucent curtain, your feet have a feeling for this floor, the texture of this wall. What the brain forgets the body will recall.
A strange thing to repeat the fictional actions of your own past. The re-visitation of the performance like returning to an old house, not to see friends or to recollect the facts of your life but rather to play a game you used to play. The place has changed a little and your body has changed too. To play the game once more is to measure the difference between then and now.
You remember one thing; the game of Emanuelle is a game of rearranging fragments, costumes, signs, slogans, scenes. A kaleidoscope for stories made strange. That's all you need to know.