The following are some personal notes on the notion of ‘picture’ in The World in Pictures; reviews of the performance have already been written to great effect by Lyn Gardner for the Guardian and Christopher Collett for the Stage.
When I think of the word ‘picture’ I see old paintings in a front room, wooden frames and glass casing. Each picture tells a story through a composition of strokes: a boat at sea in heavy weather, an ambler passing by a rusty barn etc, there is a sense of stasis, a frozen world in ‘tableau’ form. I also think of photographs, a more mechanical medium that produces similar effects. Pictures never change, the subjects never move, but upon each viewing the eye may pick out a different detail, determine a different outcome to the story. Elements of mood, light, and time of day alter the viewer’s perception. Forced Entertainment’s The World in Pictures is a living picture gallery, a loud, playful and visual history of human evolution set across multiple frames; framed by the performance space at Riverside Studios, by the notion of time in performance, by the physical elements of set, costume and body for example. Objects on a tv screen, words spoken through microphones, painted in the air, choreographed and danced.
This juxtapositon of framing devices was an affont on common notions of perception. The very idea of distilling thousands of years of human evolution into a two hour performance is itself a critique of the writing and presentation of history. Historical discourses settle all too often for approximation over complex detail, meaning that misrepresentation and revisionism in history books is rife. Forced Entertainment brings the lunacy of history into focus and asks us to pay attention to how stories are framed.
In this sense the play opens with an ‘exercise’ – a case in point that becomes a leitmotiv for the rest of the piece. A lone character called Gerry walks on stage and tells the audience a story. Using words and imagination, he addresses the audience directly, intimately, incites us to translate his words into pictures in our minds so that we become the owners of (his)story. We were invited to imagine ourselves on the edge of a high-rise building looking down at the street below. We were asked to remember what happened on our way to the theatre, the places we passed through, the people we saw in the tube.
This opening sequence hinges on the matter of perception, but it also provokes the audience into questioning the extent and reach of a theatre event. Where does the frame begin and end with the picture in theatre? Is it on stage? Does it carry over into life outisde the theatre as Gerry suggests?
In somewhat of a coincidence, on my way to the Riverside Studios that evening, I felt an impulse to write. I was sitting on a tube train between King’s Cross and Hammersmith and nothing much was happening, so I took out my notebook and began writing thoughts in a stream of consciousness fashion. I decided to include that stream of writing here verbatim as an illustration of extending the frame of theatre beyond the walls of the auditorium, beyond the set time of the play and to illustrate one person’s perception of the world:
Headphone drone, the white-boned groan of an average English clone in a westbound tube on a light, bright Saturday night. Nothing more to share than baffled, wrinkled stares, hacking and clawing away at beauty – now decayed – nothing but the hour, the potent ticking power of revolutions in time, Earth revolving, spinning, moaning. Was time invented in the mind?
Everything to look at, nothing of interest. In every nook and cranny, detritus and grime, the shadow is in the crime, sounds of cries, internal sighs, killing culture, mass-murder in fields of ether and the last vein of pain begins to wane and filters through the body’s drains, except your stare, your twitching eye, thick black mascara, button nose and pink lips, wry smile – you dare to stare at me and then with opened mouth, comes this riotous, raucous laughter.
The roar of nothing more, nothing more to abhor, above this arid earth I soar, eagle without claws, gliding over warm, swirling storms, released from earth pores, canyons of open musical score and rampant sprawling animal runs, tracks of feet, traps of meat, lines of speed, spirit, thrill, love. Love is the mind melting thoughts that pertain to all that violates its social name, shame, fame, defamed, maimed and reclaimed, onwards, onwards, this train is heading onwards for collision with the night.