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The Coming Storm, Battersea Arts Centre

Conceived and devised by Forced Entertainment
Directed by Tim Etchells

Pros: A good concept and a magnificent venue.

Cons: The execution leaves something to be desired, and makes for a rather dull show.

Our Verdict: Not the best we’ve seen, but an interesting idea worth developing into something more interesting.

Courtesy of Hugo Glendinning

Another guilty secret of ours is that, until last week, we had never visited the famous Battersea Arts Centre, described by Lyn Gardner as being ‘one of the most influential theatres in Britain’. Consequently, when we were given the opportunity to make the trek down into the realms of South London to see Forced Entertainment’s The Coming Storm, we jumped on it! For those of you that haven’t been, the venue itself is a true delight; unconventionally beautiful and oozing with intrigue, you could easily spend an evening there without even going to watch a show and still have a good time. On this occasion however, the show we saw left something to be desired. Although Forced Entertainment’s idea is full of potential, the execution is rather frustrating and frankly a little dull.

The Coming Storm is a tapestry of human stories told by six actors. There is one microphone, signifying the ‘listener’, and the actors fight for it, undermining each other as they jostle for attention. In many ways, it is a very clever interpretation of human conversation; they interrupt each other, preferring the sound of their own voices as they all try to ‘story-top’ each other. Stories get exaggerated, added to, emphasised in different ways and often morphed into something which is a long way from the reality. We all know this feeling from sitting round the dinner table and being bored to tears by some incredibly boring or unrealistic yarns!

In some respects, Forced Entertainment’s production is very successful. It is a clever idea, and the fact that it is based on devised text means that it feels very natural and real, like a genuine human conversation full of idiosyncrasies and eccentricities. It starts off extremely well, and for the first 30 minutes or so I was captivated by it all; it was funny, it made me think and it was engaging. However, as time ticked on (to the eventual long run time of 1 hour 45 minutes), my opinion of the piece began to deteriorate. The stories began to get tired, the idea stagnated and by the end of it I was left feeling rather bored and frustrated with it all. Add to that the feeling that if I was forced to hear one more dodgy piano chord I was going to storm on stage and smash the bloody thing into a million pieces, and I’m afraid the evening ended rather less well than it began!

Part of me believes that this feeling of audience frustration was what the producers were aiming for. In other words they actually wanted to generate that aforementioned tiresome round-the-dinner-table conversation feeling to make their point. If so, they certainly achieved what they set out to achieve but nonetheless I have a couple of problems with this questionable execution. Firstly, regardless of the point it is making, I never want to feel frustrated in a theatre, and they could have made the observations equally well without actually boring the audience. And secondly, whichever way you look at it, the show was too long and rather artistically indulgent in places. Bits of it were actually hard to watch as well, such as the bizarre dancing behind the piano which, after generating an easy laugh, just came across as being poor performing rather than as something to elicit an emotion of some sort (even it was meant to be cringing!).

So although we thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Battersea, the show itself left a somewhat negative taste as we walked out into a balmy London evening. It’s not a disaster by any stretch, but it’s not particularly successful in my opinion. Looking back on it, I do think the idea is an excellent one, but on this occasion Forced Entertainment’s execution of it was not quite as good as I was hoping for.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Having completed a national tour, The Coming Storm will return to the Battersea Arts Centre from 20th November – 1st December 2012.
Box Office: 020 7223 2223 or book online at http://www.bac.org.uk/whats-on/coming-storm/

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