Halfway through Forced Entertainment’s current offering, Out Of Order, which is currently playing out to enthralled audiences at HOME Manchester, I started to wonder what the collective noun for clowns was. I was hoping it would be just that eclectic to be an eyebrow raising conversational starter. Like a murder of crows. I was secretly hoping it be something like a parliament of clowns and in doing so the allegory that Forced Entertainment wish to bestow upon those watching Out Of Order will have come full circle.
It is in fact a number of nouns. An alley of clowns. A shudder of clowns. My particular favourite though is a pratfall of clowns. If anything that can sum up the stereotypical essence of a clown then it is surely the word pratfall. I guess you are wondering, dear reader, why I am prattling on about clowns?
Forced Entertainment in their inimitable style present a story that centers on six clowns, who have forgotten their routine and so much mirth and hilarity ensue as they try to recapture their clowning through a series of cleverly staged bits of slapstick and comedic calamities. However this is not the usual fare you’d expect from a show that centers on an alley of clowns. This has Forced Entertainment signature all over it. As a company they’ve become renowned for pushing buttons and in the way they buck the trend of conventional theatre to make shows that are thought provoking. Out Of Order is nothing less than what we’d expect from Forced Entertainment.
There is a lot of interesting things going on in this production. This is not something that has been haplessly thrown together. The spartan set of chairs and a table is all the props that will be needed. The costumes that the clowns wear, a tartan suit, with their faces painted in a classic white clown makeup hints at a deeper complexity. The farcical fighting is expertly choreographed and the reverberating soundtrack that has Val Martinez’s ‘Someone’s Gonna Cry’ on a loop is comfortingly endearing.
Nonetheless, whilst the production is generally well received, it is at times playing it far too safe. The segments become monotonous and repetitive in true Forced Entertainment’s style, but perhaps, too monotonous and too repetitive. A running time of 90 minutes often feels like the joke has gone on too long or we have heard it one too many times. The clown metaphor is something that is perhaps a little bit too blatant, so much so that the show’s message gets lost. After all, clowns are meant to be funny – and so we laughed.
The show has attracted much interest because of its allegorical message. Director Tim Etchells has spoken on how the show is a statement on the state of the nation and “reflecting the messy world we currently live in”. This has lead to several commentators to make the link between the current political turmoil of Brexit and the politicians to the clowns who stumble from one calamitous episode to another.
Of course in my opinion that’s a rather lazy interpretation and one that theatredom often revels in. No, if we are to take this allegory for what it is, it isn’t the clowns that are the real jokers but the audience itself, that haplessly sit on the sidelines and laugh out loud to essentially something that’s not really that funny. Dare I say, they are just like the voters, who have voted for Brexit, or voted in Boris Johnson or those that voted for Donald Trump. We cannot absolve ourselves from responsibility. Indeed, if Out Of Order’s allegory is true then it is a damning indictment on us all!