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If I were to die tomorrow and leave behind only one piece of advice that I would wish for the whole world to follow to the best of their abilities it would be this: when trying to appear normal to friends you haven’t seen for a while, inviting them to a surrealist avant-garde theatre production is probably not the smartest move. They might politely agree to come with you, but the evening’s conversation will constantly be infused with a raised eyebrow and a suspicion over the months since you’ve last seen them, you’ve gotten into some pretty weird stuff.
This was the scenario I found myself in the other night when going to see Forced Entertainment’s premier of their new show The Thrill of it All. I have to confess, I’m not an expert in theatre at all. In fact my knowledge of dramatic art is roughly limited to seeing Dr. Doolittle in London starring Philip Schofield just after I’d reached double figures. Oh, and I think I might have fallen asleep at a few Shakespeare productions in school. The Thrill of it All, in contrast, advertises itself as a play in which “nine performers in grubby tuxedos and tarnished sequins play out a comical and disconcerting vaudeville to the strains of Japanese lounge music”.
You’ll forgive me, then, for thinking that I’d maybe jumped in at the deep end. I was, in fact, quite worried that Forced Entertainment would be putting on a show that you need a PhD in abstract theatre to understand, full of allusions to misreadings of Jacques Derrida and stuff which is intentionally bad because that’s ironic and cool, right? After we’d taken our seats and the lights came down, women wearing massive blonde wigs and ill-fitting white skirts danced badly with men in white suits who wore dreadlocked wigs. They shuffled about, tripped over each other and darted from one side of the theatre to the other whilst spinning around. I had absolutely no idea what was going on.
Then, all of a sudden, my friend started to laugh. I had no other choice but to join in, but then I thought to myself – what if we’ve both got it wrong? What if this is a massively serious production with some very heavy and challenging philosophical notions behind it and we’re just a pair of Beavis and Butthead clones sat in the room ignoring all the complicated symbolism and laughing at the funny way they’re dressed? I looked around. The room was in hysterics. I took a sigh of relief. Then the performers began to talk. The pitch of the male voices was altered so as to make their voices sound comically deep and the female voices comically high. I couldn’t help it any more, I just burst out laughing and barely stopped for the rest of the performance.
It’s difficult to accurately describe what actually goes on in The Thrill of it All because it’s so unique, but if I had to summarise I would say it’s a comedic farce in which a group of preposterously dressed characters try and put on a production that has some connection with its audience and fail miserably. Various moments throughout the show involve performers trying to invoke universal themes. One character’s attempt to do a segment on little things in life is misinterpreted by the others as being about things that are very small. The show is full of sardonic absurdity and comedic efforts at portentousness, yet each time the effort devolves into platitude.
As the production ended, I still wasn’t quite sure what I’d experienced, but I was definitely sure that I enjoyed it. It’s not your average night at the theatre and if you go along expecting anything conventional then your expectations will not be met, but if you’re after a hilarious and unsettling 90 minutes then you can’t go wrong with The Thrill of it All.