Programme Note: The Possible Impossible House

Tim Etchells on The Possible Imposible House

Last time Forced Entertainment played the Barbican was with a 24-hour version of our improvised questions-and-answers marathon, Quizoola! In the green room after the show the whole team sat in delirious slow motion, debating how the whole thing had gone; pulling details from a haze of tiredness and laughter. At one point in the discussion I was telling Toni Racklin, Head of Theatre, that we never rehearse for Quizoola! since it’s built entirely on the group’s knowledge of, and intuitive feel for, each other when improvising on stage. Whilst that’s true I was glad that Richard Lowdon, founder member, performer and designer with the group, reminded me that of course, in another sense, we have been preparing and rehearsing for a challenge like that for 30 years. It’s a long history the group has – 30 years this year – a history that somehow every project both builds on and changes.

Coming back to the Barbican just over a year after Quizoola!, we’re presenting a very different project – a work for children aged 7-11, combining performers, sound and projected images made in collaboration with the artist Vlatka Horvat. In this new work, The Possible Impossible House, we explore a story via very different means – the live presence of the performers, as story tellers and enactors, and the collages and drawings which add another layer to the narrative, pulling it in new and perhaps otherwise impossible directions. It’s an unusual project even by our standards and the very first time we’ve made a work for children as its intended audience.


It makes sense though, that these two presentations of ours at the Barbican are so very different from each other – it’s a diversity that reflects the group’s long-standing approach to theatre and performance as a space that’s there to be questioned and reinvented. Baudelaire once wrote that the child’s elemental relation to the toy is to ask how to break it, what its limits are, what can be done with it, and this approach has in a small way perhaps characterised our approach to theatre and performance. Watching us slow things down and speed them up, watching us tell stories backwards, or interrupt story with story after story, watching us in performances built entirely of costume and character changes, or performances in which sound effects meet graphic novel visuals to make new worlds onstage, audiences sense a kind of playful restlessness in our approach to the medium – a restlessness which arises from our ongoing conviction that there might be – somehow, somewhere – something else we can do with the form, some other way we can use it to make real, dynamic and inspiring connections with audiences.

In the end, it’s that desire that drives the work – in all of its gloriously shifting incarnations – the desire to think about theatre and to make connections in different ways, that is pulling us to the challenge and opportunity of making a work for younger audiences. In rehearsals it feels we’re in the same process as ever – making, questioning, thinking, re-thinking – but it’s different too, as we stop here, there and there again, to think about the younger audience and how things might play with them. Returning to Baudelaire, in our case the long process of breaking and remaking the pretty extraordinary toy called theatre isn’t something we think of as a destructive act, but rather as something playfully focused on opening new possibilities. Indeed, in The Possible Impossible House we’re not losing track of the other cornerstone of our work together, which is seeing performance as a means of creating and opening a space for the audience to participate imaginatively, to think in their own ways, to connect the things they are seeing on stage and to form their own questions, narratives and ideas from that. That’s proved a great guiding principle in making work for adults and we’re sure it will prove equally fruitful and dynamic in our journey to The Possible Impossible House.