By Jonathan Grant

A pair of clowns, forlorn and silent, wander across the stage. Slowly, and then suddenly, to and fro, chairs in hand, they scuttle back and forth in agitated aggression – desperate to have these quadrupeds for themselves and deprive their jester foe. Strobe lights flicker, wood clatters and heavy metal blares. This is a Bloody Mess.

Finally our comic chums, make-up smeared all over their faces, order these seats and an audience take their places to watch us. Or are we watching them? Atypical for this type of performance theatre, our audience / our cast introduce themselves. In confusing, contrasting couplets, we become familiar with Richard, our “Romantic Hero”, and Robin who claims to be the same – only better, more virile and more suave. We have our clowns, obviously, and our sex sirens, some roadies and more buzz words float around the stage in deadpan fashion as all ten cast members compete to be the “real stars of the show”. Symbolic, enigmatic, indefatigable, dynamic….

Flick to next skit, and the next and the next, a Bloody Mess is just that; high-energy, pokerfaced, farcical and whimsical. Delinquent cheerleaders, crazed gorillas, naked men holding stars, women running, screaming, pouring water over themselves and the stage. Each cast member plays their own role, seemingly not interacting with one another. None of these stories are connected. Why should they be? This is life. This is a bloody mess. And yet this is the point.

Bloody Mess is an extremely clever piece of performance drama written by the very best in the business, the Forced Entertainment Company, for their 20th anniversary three years ago. After a sensational international tour they were back in the UK for one night on July 19, and what a night it was.

Explaining the meaning of life, from the beginnings of the Big Bang, when there was nothing but blackness and silence and the potentiality of things waiting to happen, through to the end of the world, and the inevitability of how all things come to pass, the Forced Entertainment troupe dazzled us with happiness, despair and all those things in between that are the essence of the meaning of life.

Thrown into the melting pot are impressions of weapons, a failed five-minute silence, in which you, the audience, are invited to think about, in a darkly comic way, beautiful silences you may have experienced. That’s all coupled with dozens of costume changes – all performed on stage of course. If ever you have difficulty understanding or keeping up, there is our confidence-boosting cheerleader to help you out – a metaphor for the inner strength and encouragement we all somehow find from somewhere in our lives.

Wrapping these disparate scenes together in a bundle of on-stage chaos, showbiz and rock, Forced Entertainment successfully weave this pandemonium into a whole that has a substance and poignancy that seldom lesser innovative, more linear productions could match. Its very disparity adds the depth and warmth that is the emulate of its subject matter yet, at the same time, the costumes, music, lighting and use of space ooze fun and entertainment in a very Pop Art kind of way.

Forced Entertainment call Bloody Mess a kind of manifesto for the future. However, it defies description and categorisation except to say that it is to be firmly placed in the ‘Must see next time its in town’ box.

Directed by: Tim Etchells
Written by: Tim Etchells and the company
Design by: Richard Lowdon
Lighting: Nigel Edwards