Two performers stand on stage, side-by-side, and run through a million potential futures for the universe, all joined by one magical word: “or”. Treading a paradoxical line between the intense and enthralling and the mundane, the dull, Forced Entertainment’s new piece prompts us to examine our relationship with technology, with each other, with the future, while exploring both the power and the limitations of the imagination.
The stream of possibilities listed seems infinite, bewilderingly infinite. The mass of options offered at first leaves the audience adrift; it’s an over-abundance of choice, like the cereal aisle in a supermarket – we are not given a chance to focus on any one option alone. The performers’ tense relationship enhances this process; as they bicker over whether the future will better cater to men or to women, we are offered some human grounding. The company conjure our terror of our own futures, and the supposedly endless choices on offer to us, then applies this principle to the future of the universe, leaving us overwhelmed, perplexed.
In taking this form, this barrage of information, the show bears similarities to the company’s previous work, Quizoola, in which the performers took on the rotating roles of questioner and questionee, going through a series of questions on matters both banal and poignant. This show brought this basic unit of conversation – the question – into sharp focus. In Tomorrow’s Parties perceptions of the future are given a similar treatment. There are further echoes between the pieces. Richard Lowden’s designs for both shows place the performers below a singular string of lights like those found at a fair ground, a comparison which only emphasises the otherwise stark and sparse nature of the presentation. Viewing the performers through this circus lens makes us ask further questions, about what we want from things intended to entertain, what we aim to gain from engaging with work of this kind.
As the show hits its stride, patterns start to emerge in the infinite list: one of these is the tendency to use the past to predict the future. The performers discuss ideas and systems from the past, some quite current, predicting a return to strict racial segregation, overturning many significant battles of the 20th Century; sometimes they draw on biblical imagery, presenting a vision of humanity loaded two-by-two onto a spaceship and travelling to another planet. The need to constantly reference and return to the past in this way highlights the limitations of our imagination, the difficulty of breaking out of our own understanding of the present when thinking about the future.
This becomes even clearer when the the discussion becomes more outlandish. It is suggested we will body-share, that families or friendship groups will share bodies, giving each group-member an allotted number of hours before swapping around. Though this envisages a future very different to ours, it still remains firmly based in our understanding of private property, with the emphasis on owning as superior to renting. No matter how much capitalist rhetoric tells us we can aim for the stars, our choice is limited to the ones we can see from our bedroom window. There’s a hopefulness to the show as well as a damning critique. We are reminded that the power to change, society, ourselves, our future, resides within us.