Out of order: broken, dysfunctional, not working properly. A toilet, an elevator.
It started with the clowns.
Two of them, sat glumly amongst sheets of paper, a catalogue of questions with which to pass the time. I was in my bedroom, 17 or 18, watching them idly ruminate, joke, digress, call back, shout and mull in silence via live stream from the Barbican. I was gripped.
Quizoola! was the first time I’d seen anything that didn’t look and behave like a Play. I loved its playful relationship with its audience. I felt a rush of excitement at the unchartered possibilities for what performance could feel like, what it could do and activate.
Out of order: not in the correct sequence. All the right notes, not necessarily in the right order.
Now the clowns are back – six of them now, sat glumly round a table. The same shapeless red smudge around the mouth, neither smile nor grimace. But in 2019, things are different.
Where Quizoola!’s clowns felt essentially hopeful, reaching for answers and looking for meaning, the tone here is already duller and sadder.
They’re a little older, a little more dishevelled. They look tired, but they’ve still shown up, taken their place on a wide, bare stage to do their work. But what is it that they’ve shown up to do? They seem to have forgotten. That’s alright, clowns are meant to do things wrong.
They blow up balloons, but don’t tie them, instead letting them fart, squiggle through the air and drop limply to the floor.
They follow the leader (but who’s the leader?), carrying furniture with them to nowhere in particular. It becomes a kind of funeral procession. Round and round.
They sit around a table, as if to begin a discussion, to negotiate or plan, and instead one leaps up to attack another. Choreographed chaos ensues: a murderous chase, with an uncomfortable sense of threat. The others try to keep them apart, or make chair-blockades, or just sit and watch uninterestedly. It could be a slapstick routine, but it’s not quite. The music isn’t quite the right music for a clown show (Val Martinez’ Someone’s Gonna Cry), and no-one seems to be doing this to entertain – they don’t even acknowledge the audience.
Out of order: not according to the rules of a meeting, legislative assembly, etc. Legal advisers ruled the proposal to be out of order.
This repeats. Different clowns chasing and running, maybe this time there’s a tussle on the floor, a playful cat and mouse dance. This time with honking horns. This time a short burst, this time a protracted struggle. Remixed but essentially the same pageant of aggression, always fizzling out before an actual fight can happen. Half an hour in and the tuckered out clowns are strewn across the floor, middle-aged bellies panting and make-up smeared by sweat.
Politicians are clowns, out for blood and baying at each other in Westminster, or sat around a table in Brussels trying to GET BREXIT DONE out of some duty to a supposedly binding promise, even though no-one really had any idea what that promise entailed. Forced Entertainment’s clowns have forgotten their routine but are bound to try to do it anyway, just as we remain dutifully committed to our own pointless self-destruction.
Simply put, they’re stuck. All the possibilities have been exhausted, and now they’re tired and mean, trapped on their raised stage, in front of an audience they don’t want.
There is one moment which ushers in the promise of change. The Val Martinez track, having repeated on loop, is eventually replaced by Strauss’s The Blue Danube – kitschy, frothy, much more appropriate. The violence drains out of the chase and we’re left with the plastic surface of a dumbshow. More like what the clowns should be doing, but now with the uneasy residue of menace. The much longer Strauss track finishes with a satisfying finale…
And then it starts again.
Out of order: unacceptable behaviour. That’s bang out of order, mate.
I’ve forgotten, what did we come here to do?
Out of Order ran at the Southbank Centre from 12-14 October. It tours to Brighton and Manchester in November. More info here.