‘The Last Adventures’ Programme Note by Tim Etchells

In a vast old Maschinenhalle (machinehall) of a former coal mine in Gladbeck in the old industrial heartland of Germany’s Ruhr valley, a group of people are clearing items left strewn across the expansive concrete and cracked tile floor. There’s a loose scattering of dented cooking pots, half a jumble sale’s worth of ruined clothing, a motely collection of sticks, mops, brooms and what seems to be golf clubs, as well as assorted battered suitcases and boxes, tin foil stars on bamboo canes, scraps of white and blue gauze, paper streamers, buckets and broken wheelbarrows, and here and there, a messy web of tangled long red ribbons tied to yellow tennis balls. Clearing this lot up, and then packing it carefully seems to be the start of every rehearsal day over two months in Gladbeck as we are making The Last Adventures, a process of arranging the chaos neatly so that it can all be located again, used for the scenes of the performance and in the process strewn around the floor once more.

Like much of Forced Entertainment’s work The Last Adventures is a strange mix of high-tech and low-fi, the high-tech in this case concentrated in the lights and the sound, the lo-fi focused very much in the performance, which lies somewhere between a largely improvised choreography, an animated scenery or painting come to life, an absurd game of costume changing and transformation, and a pattern made from stories that have been broken into pieces.

Beginning from a discussion about epic and fantastic tales, folk stories and the crowd scenes of pantomime and opera the project soon took on a life of its own, seeing the regular Forced Entertainment team and guests working with 19th century illusionistic scenery in the form of wooden trees and other items one week, whilst creating a kind of comical Hieronymus Bosch landscape-as-dressing-up-game-gone-wrong, the next. At the heart of this process there remained an interest in stories, especially the kinds of stories contained already in pictures, and in the meeting of visual fragments – the kinds of stories that might flicker into existence in collage or in TV channel hopping.

The starting point sound-wise was a collaboration with the extraordinary Lebanese artist Tarek Atoui, whose longstanding interest in sound samples as modular fragments for algorithmic recombination made a clear connection to our interest in narratives made from fragments and slithers of existing stories. Like Forced Entertainment, Atoui also has a practise deeply rooted in structured improvisation and the possibilities that it affords for generating surprise shifts in performance energy and content. To animate this connection in The Last Adventures, Atoui conceived a musical structure for the work in which his written and recorded score would be accompanied and remixed for each live presentation by a new sonic collaborator. Keeping the sound textures changing, performances have thus far featured improvised contributions from Atoui himself, Uriel Barthélémi, percussionist; Mazen Kerbaj, trumpeter and for Warwick one of the founding fathers of Japanese noise music, the multi-instrumentalist and electronic musician KK Null. This shifting aspect to The Last Adventures’ soundtrack also demands extra focus from the performers onstage who must adapt and remix their own actions and the atmospheres they create in relation to the shifts in the acoustic territory of the piece provided by each of the guest musicians interpreting Atoui’s score.

Visually rich with dispersed detail, The Last Adventures is decidedly full of contradictions; home-made and evidently improvised in part, it’s nonetheless a carefully structured journey from start to finish. Comical and at times ridiculous, whilst often making switches of tone that are deeply felt but hard to explain, the piece can also generate real emotional involvement. The role of the spectator in a theatre like this, is always active, never passive; a matter of joining in, not as part of the on-stage work of performance but in the deep imaginative work of finding, linking, reading and transforming what takes place in front of you.

Tim Etchells
Sheffield 2014