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The Use of Play and Things within Forced Entertainment Theatre’s Shows, Bloody Mess and The World in Pictures

Le jeu et les choses dans Bloody Mess et The World in Pictures. Le Théâtre de “Forced Entertainment”
Chloé Déchery


Le théâtre de “Forced Entertainment” se caractérise par un sens de la transgression vis-à-vis des cadres dramaturgiques du théâtre de texte. Fragmentation de la narration, déconstruction du personnage, mésusage des outils traditionnels du théâtre: le désordre et le jeu valent comme mots d’ordre d’un théâtre désormais essentiellement visuel et physique où la situation prévaut sur le texte. Sur le plateau s’accumulent toutes sortes de choses: journaux entassés, bouteilles de bière à moitié vide, perruques éparses, chaises amoncelées. Or, force est de constater que cette présence tapageuse témoigne du statut particulier réservé aux choses: accumulation et saturation, telles sont les figures qui dérivent de l’acquisition et de la thésaurisation de choses amassées au cours des répétitions. La prolifération est ici l’indice d’une théâtralité poussée dans ses ultimes retranchements; la chose est parfois l’indice d’un dysfonctionnement de la représentation où le jeu pur l’emporte sur la construction d’un sens univoque. Dans ce contexte de création ludique, les choses se parent alors d’une nouvelle dimension: la chose devient jouet, objet d’une manipulation sensuelle et curieuse, prétexte à de nouveaux évènements, à de nouveaux conflits. Un temps indéfinie, elle s’actualise le temps d’un jeu. Or, une fois le jeu achevé, l’objet abandonné réintègre son statut de chose indéterminée, cependant porteuse de la trace de son passage sur scène. Sa présence arbitraire, sa signification polysémique sont alors le signe, chez “Forced Entertainment”, d’un théâtre qui ose inventer des règles pour immédiatement s’y soustraire.

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1Forced Entertainment Theatre Company, based in Sheffield, in the heart of post- industrial England, presents a theatre that defies all attempts at categorization. Collectively creative, but always regimented by the company’s stage and artistic director, Tim Etchells, Forced Entertainment’s works borrow the open structure of improvisation, but still follow a clear and rigorous logic. Relevant in this sense of “post-dramatic theatre” (Lehmann 2006), Forced Entertainment’s shows can be defined, among other things, by fragmentary narration and deconstruction of character, as well as voluntary misusage of traditional scenic tools (such as costumes, wigs, accessories, and set design). Entertaining chaos and playful performance function as landmarks for an essentially visual and physical theatre where the situation prevails upon the text.

2The analysis proposed here will concentrate on the study of two shows: Bloody Mess and The World in Pictures. This corpus presents a true coherence as much for historical and contextual reasons as for aesthetic reasons. Indeed, there exists a relationship of chronological and logical continuity between the two shows, Bloody Mess having provided the genesis for The World in Pictures. As Etchells precisely describes it, “chaotic and comical, The World in Pictures combines diverse elements and starts where Bloody Mess left off, returning us to the place we like so much—on an empty stage, with an impossible story to tell and inadequate tools for the job,” (Forced Entertainment The World in Pictures Contextualising Pack, 2). Moreover, both shows come from a common aesthetic—a sensational aesthetic—and from a playful handlings of things.

3Bloody Mess, a rock-show created in 2004, manipulates and articulates—in pastiche style—melodramatic form, physical science lectures, operettas, clowns, and hard rock concerts in which neither scenic elements nor narratives dominate one another. The show in its entirety follows a disconnected and juxtaposed logic, a sort of collage rendering the reading of the show at least problematic, if not impossible.

4In The World in Pictures, created in 2006, a quickly unstrung female narrator attempts to summarize two thousand years of western history in less than two hours, while the other actors are behaving independently, more or less isolated from one another. Each one of them becomes an avatar of historic characters, passing cheerfully from caveman to medieval man, swapping clubs for paper crowns. While the fragmentary narration poses as a parody of a children’s show, one of the actors comes over from time to time to give stage whispers to the public, indulging in intimate confessions. Prominent history and human temporality combine in a performance marked by chaotic theatricality.

5As a preliminary remark, let us note that things in Forced Entertainment’s theatre embody both a narrative and stage action. Indeed, at the time of creation, the text and the stage elements appear and mingle in order to produce what will be the “textuality” of the show. Thus, things not only support but also represent a matrix for the theatrical performance. It is this relation between things and scenic actions that most interests us throughout this analysis of Forced Entertainment’s theatre.

6If Forced Entertainment’s shows are designed and elaborated during rehearsals, what will be the role of things in this creative process? Within these two primarily visual and choreographed works, what will be the role and significance of things with regards to the stage arrangement and operation?

“Things” and “Objects”, a Semantic Journey

7First of all, what are the things and should we try to distinguish them from objects? Are not a scenic thing and a scenic object one and the same?

8According to Webster’s 9th New Collegiate Dictionary, a thing is “an entity not precisely designated or capable of being designated.” The word object, so often employed synonymously with thing, designates something more determined. An object both has a function, inscribing itself in a system of relations, and is perceptible, presenting itself to the senses (not only sight, but also touch, odor, etc.). More generally, by an object, we think of something fabricated or transformed by human activity, which has a precise function, whereas a thing is more undefined. An object exists with respect to the eye perceiving it and the hand crafting it. It is always the product of a physical or mental activity.

9We can safely conclude from this initial distinction that the category of things encompasses the category of objects: the concept of object is narrower than the more general concept of thing.

10According to the traditional way of thinking, things (understood here as “goods” or “possessions”) are opposed to “beings”, whereas objects are opposed to “subjects”. A thing is characterized by a degree of uncertainty; it is a potentiality, whereas an object is conceived in relation to the subject perceiving it. Yet as long as it has not been restricted to a particular use (by manipulation), each thing on stage belongs to an undetermined domain. On stage, for example, a packet of biscuits could be eaten, crushed, tossed, caressed, etc. Let us start from this postulate: a thing on stage, when it is unemployed, remains a thing. It represents something, but this something is not necessarily stable or invariable. A thing is the source of possibilities that the actor’s manipulations will fulfill. On stage, a thing functions as a sort of resistance. It is, as such, still a hypothesis. It does nothing but announce or suggest what it could potentially signify. However, once it has been manipulated, a thing becomes an object; it becomes the focus of actions and relations. However, with Forced Entertainment, a thing never remains an object for long: quickly abandoned, it reverts back to a thing, becoming once again a possibility and a polysemous sign, signifying not only what it once was in a particular scene, but also what it could have been and still might become. Thus, as we will see later, when becoming a thing again, an object is in fact no longer quite the same thing; from this moment on, it has a past. The initial manipulation transformed the thing into an object, and at the same time, gave it a temporal dimension, a history. Forced Entertainment’s theatre deals with this issue: the successive transformation of things into objects and back into different things.

11It then seems relevant to articulate the distinction between things and the notion of play using the following hypothesis: playing is developed through the handling of things, while complicating their statuses. Let us note that playing happens thanks to things, since they are the focus of experimental manipulations, transforming them into objects. But Forced Entertainment’s scenic objects are not limited to a specific use for long; objects become things again as soon as they are considered playful in the sense of possibility and not of purpose; they literally give room to play. Finally, a scenic thing, source of both play and possibility, is what makes Forced Entertainment a theatre that is constantly renewed, a theatre that comes undone in the sense that the rules of the game are changed as soon as they are laid out.

Arrangement, Manipulation, and Playful Experimentation: From Things to Objects

12From the earliest rehearsals, Forced Entertainment’s actors are invited to use and exploit everything within arm’s reach while the text, through improvisation, develops collectively to later be rewritten by director Tim Etchells. Each object can be interpreted, used, or misused during rehearsals. Things participate fully in the making of the show: “At the start some key element of the set might already be in place; a pair of old curtains; a tiny stage surrounded with lights, a blackboard, or a small room with crudely cut out windows and door” (Forced Entertainment Forced Entertainment Research Pack, 9). Things provide a catalyst for the creative process and the basis for expanding the imagination.

  • 1 Translation by Allison N. Ryan and Laurent Déchery. Original quote: Disons sommairement qu’un obje (...)

13That’s why all sorts of things pile up very quickly on stage. This image of accumulation will not be erased at the end of the show, but instead, exacerbated. Nevertheless, this disorder gives the scattered things an immediate significance: they become theatrical as soon as they enter the performing space. Things are arranged for display. On the stages of Bloody Mess and The World in Picture s, there is no nook, no hiding place; everything is shown, everything is seen. Thus, as soon as things become the focus of playing, they indicate something else, what they will eventually become. While we are on this topic, let us examine the distinction that Anne Ubersfeld proposes between things and objects—an initial distinction that will be discussed later in further detail: “Briefly put, an object is more than a thing: it is a thing, but humanized by the customs of men, even when they have not made it themselves”1 (Ubersfeld 126). Actors’ manipulations transform things into objects from the moment they assign each to a specific function.

14But what are these things that pile up on Forced Entertainment’s stages? Let us stop for a moment and list everything that the actors in Bloody Mess and The World in Pictures have at their disposal: gorilla costumes, evening gowns, two clown disguises, tutus, two Hawaiian shirts, animal skins, a skeleton costume, togas, popcorn, a cardboard crown, several bottles of water, some packs of beer, lipstick, wigs, a horn, both an electric and an acoustic guitar, paper napkins, a plastic bone, fake snow, a wheelbarrow, a plastic sword, a vacuum cleaner, fake grass, neon lights, sequined curtains, smoke, amplifiers and a mixing console, a stereo, a computer, a television, a microphone, etc.

15Accumulation, pileup, and saturation are images that are derived from the discovery and acquisition of the things gradually amassed during rehearsals, meticulously collected, and conspicuously displayed. From this simple observation we draw several conclusions:

16First of all, let us note that this quantity gives a spectacular, or at the very least, an out-of-the-ordinary dimension to this collection of ordinary objects. Their number transforms them into theatrical objects; chaos itself becomes a show. Here, the proliferation is an indication of theatricality pushed to its utmost limits; things are often indicators of failure or at least of the undermining of traditional drama where pure play prevails over the making of a narrative. From this disarray of things can emerge the possibility of theatre as play. As Tim Etchells claims, “For us, the mess and its structured exuberance is something of a manifesto; an insistence that theatre can be more than drab story or literary rhetoric, that its heart lies in play, in liveness and in the event” (Forced Entertainment Bloody Mess, Performance Text, 3).

17Then, as it clearly appears in the listing of our poetic inventory, Forced Entertainment’s two shows fuse and intermingle daily objects with objects more clearly relevant to the theatrical world, without trying to distinguish between them. This combination results from Etchells’ and his company’s will to mix “materials with a use or a function in the real world [. . .] materials that can have a realness and history” with “theatrical or show business scenic elements” (Forced Entertainment Forced Entertainment Research Pack, 9). Grouping these two categories of a priori distinct objects produces a lack of differentiation from which everyday objects and theatrical objects exchange their original properties. The ordinary object is dramatized while the theatrical object becomes commonplace, drained of its original meaning. For example, an ordinary animal skin belonging to a tacky interior decoration rather than to a costume shop is dramatized from the moment it is associated with a wig used in a fake historical reenactment: the animal skin then connotes cheap theatre, community theatre, as well as a kitsch aesthetic and a taste for phony re-enactments. Forced Entertainment’s theatre (in this sense indistinguishable from any other modern theatre) is a place where new meanings are given to reality; this theatre is both a continuous game and a playful transformation of the world.

18We can see not only a refusal from Forced Entertainment to let itself be confined to a single universe, but equally a desire to divert objects from their original meaning, accomplishing a real decontextualization. For example, a theatrical object is often referred to as a fake object, explicitly belonging to the world of theatrical illusion. In The World in Pictures (Forced Entertainment Bloody Mess, Performance Text, 54), John and Richard discuss various objects clearly relevant to the theatrical world (a wig and a clown’s nose) while referring in comedic style to the stereotypes and outdated representations that are usually attached to them, thus draining the theatrical objects of their original meanings:

  • 2 Note added by the author.
  • 3 Note added by the author.

John: [. . .] Can I ask you something?
Richard [wearing a Rasta wig]:2 Sure.
John: That’s not really your hair is it?
Richard: It is human hair.
John: It’s not your human hair though?
Richard: ist 100% human hair.
John: It’s a wig.
Richard: Can I ask you something?
John [dressed with the costume and makeup of an operetta clown]:3 Yeah.
Richard: Have you got any big shoes?
John: No.
Richard: Have you got a funny little red nose?
John: No.
Richard: Round the back of the theatre at the stage door have you got a funny little car with a funny little horn on it?

  • 4 Translation by Allison N. Ryan and Laurent Déchery. Original quote: “l’objet scénique est toujours (...)

19We see here how the function of a prop is deconstructed in such a way that it detached from its original meaning: the red nose is no longer a comedic clue. After all, the recurrent use made of props goes with a sense of their over-dramatization. If, as Anne Ubersfeld puts it, “the scenic object is always a theatrical metaphor, it always says, among other things: I am a theatrical object and I also tell how theatre functions as play, I am an object for a show”4 (Ubersfeld 161).

  • 5 mphasis added by the author.

20Scenic objects are doubly theatrical within Forced Entertainment’s theatre because they are explicitly borrowed from the traditional world of theatre both for their origins and their uses. Things become theatrical objects because they are objects of a gaze and a manipulation. A thing as the focus of gazes and various scenic actions is reified, i.e. objectified and recognized. Both visual pleasure for the audience and sensory pleasure for the actor are centered around the theatrical object: “[. . .] we’re really thinking a lot in this piece about pleasure; about the pleasure of watching, and about visual pleasure [. . .]. The piece almost wants to give you presents: it’s a very decorative piece, it’s busy in every corner of the stage all the time, there’s always something for you to find visually to look at, it’s very sensuous”5 (Etchells Bloody Mess Contextualizing Pack, 7). As Etchells points out, the object calls for the development of an activity: the actor gets busy, bustling about around the objects on stage.

  • 6 Note from the author: there is a passage in Morale du Joujou especially refering to that paradoxica (...)

21The act of manipulating objects follows a simple practical necessity: experimentation. Forced Entertainment actors are manipulators and the stage is their playground. Consequently, the handling of objects often goes beyond practical and usual norms, which can lead to their being broken. Etchells shows this when he describes Baudelaire’s image of the child and his toy, certainly referring to both a poem and an essay entitled respectively Le Joujou du pauvre (Baudelaire 1980a, 178) and Morale du joujou (Baudelaire 1980b, 339–343).6 He points out this relationship between the child and his toy as a metaphor for the relationship between actor and object, as each one considers the following question: “How can I break this?” (Forced Entertainment The World in Pictures Contextualizing Pack, 9).

22Etchells also encourages discovery and risk-taking in the handling of objects. It is again about decontextualizing objects, unlearning their everyday uses and functions, and inventing new ways of playing with them. As Andrew Quick remarks, to do this is “to take the risk of negotiating material without relying on an immediate recourse to a rule, to pre-established ways of making sense of everyday occurrences” (Quick 148). The manipulation can sometimes be characterized by a real clumsiness that enables the creation of a sort of “anti-methodology” from the incorrect use of objects, such as in a comical scene from The World in Picture s, where one of the actors, dressed as a prehistoric man, tries to launch a javelin through the image of a horse displayed on a computer screen.

23In this context of playful creation, objects become thus sources of new challenges: first submitted to strange manipulation, naive or ironic, they are also opportunities for new events and conflicts. Objects facilitate play: they create a new domain and develop relationships as well as disorder.

Objects and Their Possibilities: Creating Play

  • 7 Translation by Allison N. Ryan and Laurent Déchery. Original quote: “le[ s] ‘complément[s]’ d’une s (...)

24First of all, objects encourage play in the sense that they create movement. There exist numerous situations within Forced Entertainment’s theatre where an object serves as a template for precise and choreographed body movement. Actors start playing because of objects. Thus, in Bloody Mess, there are various dance numbers where the actors, resembling revue dancers, resort to one or several “base-objects”, or, to use Anne Ubersfeld’s terminology once again, to objects that are “the ‘complements’ of a series of constructive-deconstructive operations, transformative manipulations that constitute a significant part of the actor’s playful activity”7 (Ubersfeld 148–149). Similarly, in The World in Pictures, Wendy’s majorette number is developed in reference to the various objects around her; first some garland, then some authentic pompoms. An object encourages motion, then the production of a task through the establishment of a basic rule, such as a choreography combining arm and feet movements that create images of letters in the air. Objects enable the actor to enter the temporal dimension of the show.

25Let us note furthermore the additional playful dimension given by the repetitive aspect of these activities. Repetition itself has a playful value: it is not about actual reproduction of reality but about attempting, each time, to recreate the event and renew the action. An actor’s play in handling an object and engaging in structured choreography is similar to a child’s play, equally characterized by repetition and both tirelessly returning to the origin of their movements. Repeating the action is an attempt to seize an initial impulse. An object ties together activity (the actor is busy doing something) and repetition (the actor tries to reinvent the original gestures every time), leading to the “here and now” of the performance.

26An object enables a distinction between starting a movement, carrying out a task, and the “here and now” of the performance. Objects create room to play: they outline a network of spatial and human relations where new dramatic tensions emerge. In this sense, the objects make the theatre.

27The opening scene of Bloody Mess, entitled The Chairs, perfectly illustrates this idea. In this scene, the object (a chair) enables the dramatic action. While the audience enters and gets situated, two actors dressed as clowns are seated on stage and seem not to acknowledge one another’s presence. When the stage lights are turned on, one of the clowns gets up and attempts to arrange the scattered chairs into a single line at the front of the stage, facing the public. As soon as he does this, the other clown gets up and makes his own attempt to arrange these same chairs into a single line at the back of the stage. The disagreement progressively becomes a comedy, but a violent one, where the two clowns openly confront each other concerning the arrangement of the chairs. Soon enough, they are no longer rearranging the chairs but throwing them across the stage, with the chance of breaking them at any moment. At the end of the scene, the two exhausted clowns are seated on the chairs, finally arranged in a single line at the front of the stage.

28In this scene, playing with objects enables the construction of dramatic tension while proposing a clear rule: he who possesses the chairs and succeeds in arranging them as he pleases will emerge as the true organizer of space. This seemingly absurd game then raises new questions: how does one obtain the power and how does one keep it? How can one reaffirm one’s identity when confronting a menacing other? The object “chair” becomes the focus of a manipulation, an organization of space, and an affirmation of power. The scenic object enables a relationship between two actors and a unique connection to the performing space.

29Let’s examine another example where the object creates relationships and shapes performing space. In another scene of Bloody Mess, a female actor wearing a gorilla costume throws popcorn at the public. The act of tossing popcorn to the audience establishes a doubly ironic connection because, on the one hand, this action reverses the conventional relationship between actor and spectator (now, actors—and not spectators—have popcorn at their disposal) and on the other hand, it illustrates a reversal of the structure seeing/seen since it superimposes the image of a zoo onto the theatrical world. The gorilla gives out popcorn to the viewer, crossing the stage boundary which, in turn, changes its meaning: the stage becomes a separation, a disjunction in the same way the gorilla cage in the zoo distinguishes between subject and object and between human and animal. By this unprecedented use of popcorn, spectators are led to reflect on the relationship that they have with what they are viewing and their connection to the stage.

30Thus, objects create possibilities in many ways: they provoke action and interaction (between two actors or between actors and the audience). However, what counts, in Forced Entertainment’s performances, is not so much the objects themselves (their material, value, or rarity), but much more the activity that they produce, which, both inspires the actor and captures the viewer’s interest.

Denying the Rules of the Game: From Objects Back to Things

31Forced Entertainment’s objects are quickly rearranged and eventually abandoned. They are not submitted to jealous and exclusive possession, but are randomly rearranged on stage, where they often remain unused. They are first instruments of a joyful manipulation, and are then set aside. We understand better how these objects leaving traces symbolize the philosophy of a theatre that is able to alternately construct and deconstruct its performances. What is the status of this often-abandoned object? Does it not become a thing again? Is it not reassigned to the status of a thing, defined by extreme openness and original indetermination?

32The subject of Forced Entertainment’s dramatic action, as we said, is not the objects themselves but the playful handling that determines them. The “rules of the game”, which determine each of these manipulations, once set and applied, are usually immediately denied. Objects are the means by which the “rules of the game” are written and unwritten. “Playing the game and denying its rules” could be the reformulation of this directive launched by Tim Etchells and his actors: “doing things and then trying to undo them” (Etchells 2005a).

33We thus identify two non-contradictory trends that characterize both Forced Entertainment’s creative process and its aesthetic programme: on the one hand, there is a preference for pleasure and play, which creates a theatre where the discovery and exploration of objects belongs to the realm of wonder; on the other hand, there is a temptation of failure, where an alternately uncomfortable and unfinished theatre has its raison d’être and where the manipulations of objects are characterized by a certain casualness, an assumed negligence.

34Within this dramaturgy of failure, of unwriting the “rules of the game”, (where one deconstructs conventional uses of what will become a decontextualized object, but where the expectations of the public are equally denied), it is possible to grab an object, to discover and reveal it, only to immediately abandon it. The manipulation of objects is not weighed down, but bears the mark of lightness. In Forced Entertainment’s theatre there is accumulation without hoarding. Once an object’s potential has been explored, it can be discarded. That is why, in most cases, manipulation does not occur until a thing has been drained of all meaning. Manipulation renews things without limiting or permanently determining them. This is why, in the chronology of Forced Entertainment’s shows, one show logically leads to another: what had been left unresolved or was still in the works in a previous show, we find resumed in the following one.

35Thus Forced Entertainment’s theatre questions the status of things by means of a creative process alternating between a phase of construction—when things are transformed into objects as a result of an actor’s expert manipulation—and a phase of deconstruction—when objects become things again as soon as they no longer have a unique determination.

36In addition, this relationship with the objectified thing that has been returned to a state of indetermination is a synecdoche of the relationship that Forced Entertainment itself promotes in theatre; this is what Etchells, still referring to Baudelaire’s child / toy relation’s analysis, expresses when he presents the image of the child and his toy: “Sometimes I think that’s our attitude or question to theatre! How can I break it, in different ways—what can it do once it’s broken?” (Forced Entertainment The World in Pictures Contextualising Pack, 9). In the same perspective, Hans-Thies Lehmann sees a similar relationship between the way Forced Entertainment addresses the notion of costume and the relationship that the company fosters with theatrical paradigm (Lehmann 2004, 117). The actors change, undress, and disguise themselves, and the theatrical paradigm, just like a theatrical costume, is turned inside out, hung up, put back in the closet, worn, then trampled on and turned invisible, yet is always present.

37The relationship that Forced Entertainment’s actors maintain with things/objects incidentally reminds us of the relationship that the child has with his favorite toy. At one time an object of fixation, the toy (such as a security blanket), is later pushed aside and abandoned by the child. We should not mention this dynamic relationship with objects without referring to the analysis that D. W. Winnicott (in Playing and Reality) proposes around fetish objects and infantile fixation, also called “transitional objects”. According to Winnicott, transitional objects enable children to become free and to develop as independent individuals. In the first phase, the discovery of objects enables children to distinguish between their own body and the bodies of strangers that are nothing but objects. The relationship fostered with this now-identified object enables them to place their affection somewhere other than on their mothers, allowing them to emotionally free themselves. In the final phase, the act of giving up their favorite object is an indicator of the children’s independence. Even if Forced Entertainment’s actors do not ever make explicit reference to this psychoanalytic view of children, it is nonetheless clear that their relationship to objects certainly belongs to the realm of playfulness, where objects are alternately fetishized or abandoned.

38What finally remains of abandoned objects? What is the meaning of these forsaken objects, left at the edge of the stage, neither completely engaged in play nor out of use? Objects are not completely erased when they are still present on stage (nothing leaves the stage before the end of the show, everything stays put), they become things; they remain present, but only as traces, memories of a use that is already out-of-date.

  • 8 Translation by Allison N. Ryan and Laurent Déchery. Original quote: “Il ne faut pas oublier que le (...)

39These thing-traces enable the display of how a performance works, and show how the chronological arrangement of scattered things on stage constitutes the entire meaning of the performance. As Anne Ubersfeld reminds us, “We must not forget that the entire performance is developed over time and that the first appearance of an object sets the tone for all that follow; it is important to realize that an object is indistinctly perceived in a set before being manipulated. As a result of the persistence of perceptions, an overlay of images causes objects to retain something from their first appearances, hence a sort of spontaneous metaphorization of objects by the superimposition of uses and meanings”8 (Ubersfeld 155).

40Moreover, the thing-traces enable a relationship to develop between presence and absence, which is essential to a theatrical performance. Indeed, by mentioning the possibility of the disappearance of things arranged in front of us, we paradoxically insist on their being there. Abandoned objects continue to function as spatial and temporal gaps: they are left there and function as a remnant of memory, reminders of a performance that is being constructed and deconstructed.

41Finally, the thing-traces remind viewers of the reality of theatre as they witness the creation process because things set at the periphery articulate play and unplay, on stage and off stage. Thus, as Simon Breden wrote when speaking of Bloody Mess: “their props and costumes line the borders of the stage, refreshingly never hiding the contrived nature of all theatre” (Forced Entertainment Forced Entertainment Research Pack, 41). By not completely clearing the stage of the once-manipulated objects that are now pushed aside, the structure of the performance is left apparent.

42Beyond the multiple possibilities of play that it offers, a thing indicates something important regarding how the performance works, namely its polymorphous and fleeting character. Things are the matrix where theatre is invented and renewed, articulating fictional time and performing time, fictional space and scenic space.

43Thus, Forced Entertainment makes use of things on stage in a manner that echoes its own name. At first it is about seducing the viewer by playful and enjoyable uses of things, which become scenic objects, pleasing the spectators through sight and touch. However, it is equally a question of denying the expectations attached to the use of these objects; things in themselves are as essential as the play that they stimulate. Thus play overtakes things that will be abandoned at the stage’s edge and evolves according to continuously reinvented rules. Amusement, play, and entertainment soon overtake the rule, the constraint, what is forced. A thing opens on something other than itself: pure play. Play is Forced Entertainment’s key word. “Play as a state in which meaning is in flux, in which possibility thrives, in which versions multiply, in which the confines of what is real are blurred, buckled, broken. Play as endless transformation, transformation without end and never stillness. Would that be pure play?” (Etchells 2005b, 53).

44Indeed, playing is the activity that confuses the senses, causes permanent changes and creates another level of reality. Playing is what helps push back the limits of everyday life and portray a constantly changing world. Thus, on stage objects are transformed through playing, transcending the banal, functional, and limited uses of everyday life. A thing, in Forced Entertainment’s theatre, does not remain an object for long because alternately invariable and uncertain, it is reinvented, rediscovered, and recreated at every moment.

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Baudelaire, Charles, Le Joujou du pauvre, poème XIX, Petits poèmes en prose, Le Spleen de Paris, (1869), Paris: Robert Laffont, Bouquins, 1980: 178, a.

Baudelaire, Charles, Morale du joujou, in Essais et Nouvelles, V, (1869), Paris: Robert Laffont, Bouquins, 1980: 339–343, b.

Etchells, Tim, The World in Pictures’ Rehearsals’ Blog, 10th August 2005, checked on 3rd October 2007, a.

Etchells, Tim, “Play on: Collaboration and Process” Certain Fragments (1999), London and New York: Routledge, 2005: 50–70, b.

Forced Entertainment, The World in Pictures, Contextualising Pack, downloaded on 4th October 2007 on Forced Entertainment’s website,

Forced Entertainment, Forced Entertainment Research Pack, downloaded on the 4th of October 2007 on Forced Entertainment’s website,

Forced Entertainment, Bloody Mess, Performance Text, Sheffield: Forced Entertainment, 2004.

Forced Entertainment, Bloody Mess Contextualising Pack, downloaded on 4th October 2007 on Forced Entertainment’s website,

Lehmann, Hans-Thies, Post-Dramatic Theatre, London and New York: Routledge, 2006.

Lehmann, Hans-Thies, “Shakespeare’s Grin: remarks on World Theatre with Forced Entertainment”, Not Even a Game Anymore, The Theatre of Forced Entertainment, Judith Helmer and Florian Malzacher, Berlin: Alexander Verlag, 2004: 103–117.

Quick, Andrew, “Bloody Play/Games of Childhood and Death”, Not Even a Game Anymore, The Theatre of Forced Entertainment, Judith Helmer and Florian Malzacher, Berlin: Alexander Verlag, 2004: 139–165.

Ubersfeld, Anne, L’École du spectateur (Lire le théâtre 2), Paris: Éditions sociales, 1981, chapitre 3, «L’objet théâtral», 125–164.

Winnicott, D. W., Playing and Reality, London: Tavistock, 1971.

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1 Translation by Allison N. Ryan and Laurent Déchery. Original quote: Disons sommairement qu’un objet est plus qu’une chose : c’est une chose, mais reprise et humanisée par l’usage qu’en font les hommes, même quand ils ne l’ont pas créée eux-mêmes.”

2 Note added by the author.

3 Note added by the author.

4 Translation by Allison N. Ryan and Laurent Déchery. Original quote: “l’objet scénique est toujours métaphore de théâtre; ce qu’il dit, c’est toujours, outre le reste: je suis objet de théâtre et je dis aussi le fonctionnement ludique du théâtre, je suis objet pour un spectacle.”

5 mphasis added by the author.

6 Note from the author: there is a passage in Morale du Joujou especially refering to that paradoxical and destructive relation between the child and his toy. Original quote: “La plupart des marmots veulent surtout voir l’âme, les uns au bout de quelque temps d’exercice, les autres tout de suite. C’est la plus ou moins rapide invasion de ce désir qui fait la plus ou moins grande longévité du joujou. Je ne me sens pas le courage de blâmer cette manie enfantine: c’est une première tendance métaphysique. Quand ce désir s’est fiché dans la moelle cérébrale de l’enfant, il remplit ses doigts et ses ongles d’une agilité et d’une force singulières. L’enfant tourne, retourne son joujou, il le gratte, il le secoue, le cogne contre les murs, le jette par terre. [. . .] La vie merveilleuse s’arrête. [. . .] Mais où est l’âme? C’est ici que commencent l’hébétement et la tristesse” (342).

7 Translation by Allison N. Ryan and Laurent Déchery. Original quote: “le[ s] ‘complément[s]’ d’une série d’opérations de construction-déconstruction, manipulations transformatrices qui sont une bonne part de l’activité ludique du comédien.”

8 Translation by Allison N. Ryan and Laurent Déchery. Original quote: “Il ne faut pas oublier que le tout de la représentation s’inscrit dans le temps et que la première apparition d’un objet conditionne toutes les autres; il n’est pas indifférent qu’un objet soit perçu confusément dans un ensemble-décor avant de faire l’objet de manipulations. Par le fait de la rémanence des perceptions, il se fait tout un travail de superpositions qui contraint l’objet à garder quelque chose de ses premières apparitions: de là une sorte de métaphorisation spontanée de l’objet par superposition d’usages et de significations.”

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Chloé Déchery, « The Use of Play and Things within Forced Entertainment Theatre’s Shows, Bloody Mess and The World in Pictures »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 35 | 2008, mis en ligne le 21 mars 2019, consulté le 25 novembre 2020. URL :; DOI:

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Chloé Déchery

Université Paris 10-Nanterre

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Études britanniques contemporaines est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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