Forced Entertainment: after last nights' performance at Soho Theatre this experimental theatre groups name has never made more sense. Twin the name with the title of the show, 'Exquisite Pain', and you have some idea of what is at stake in this work. In Exquisite Pain the audience are locked in the theatre for an excruciatingly long two and a half hours of repeated monologue with two actors and only the minimal of visual references to distract. In addition, there is no nipping in and out as with other-albeit longer-durational performances. Instead, viewing is compulsory. This compulsion reveals Forced Entertainments sadistic nature, it also highlights the masochistic motivations of some audience members who clearly enjoy every drawn out moment. However, the tangible pain that results from experiencing Exquisite Pain has a clear purpose: Forced Entertainment subjects its audience to this hurt in order to ask the question 'what happens, what is produced, in the continual repeatition of the same plot?' 'Is anything repeated in performance ever the same?' and 'How long is too long for a theatre play?'
On stage the similar but different versions of artist Sophie Calles story of her relationship break-up move through a female narrator in various impersonal, invested, desperate or optimistic tones. The repetition of the story raises various theoretical points. One is that the repetition of the story performs the questions of repetition and simulacra itself: where is the original, as opposed to the copy, or more importantly where is the truth located within these repetitions? The other point clearly questions the linguistic possibilities of repetition: is a repetition, whether enacted or uttered, ever such, or ever simple, or is it both structurally and content-wise a different and singular event each time?
In addition to Calles' break-up story, a male narrator tells shorter and often more anecdotal tales from contributors who accepted Calles’ invitation to detail "the time that they suffered the most". The two different monologues clearly infect one other on a surface level but if you look deeper for significant traces, similarities or affects from one to another it will take a (very) long time and you will inevitably get tangled up in either stories huge amount of detail. The failure to draw clear lines between the two sets parts of Exquisite Pain is important. Instead of focussing solely on the stories' main picture - death, loss and grief - a certain 'looking away' is emphasised. Whether it be the red telephone in Calles' room at the Imperial Hotel or the nail-head on the coffin of the male narrators dead Dad, the script focuses in great detail on the side-glances, in-between moments and the corners of vision and mind that remain unnoticed and meaningless in an everyday context but in times of extreme pain or anxiety take on a significance that belies their marginal nature. Importantly, these same in-between details offer hope in each of the respective stories: the red phone may ring and thus bring back Calles' ex-boyfriend, the coffin nails might be prised open and the dead Dad will come back to life.
Rachel Lois Clapham