Forced Entertainment (from Sheffield in the UK) were last in here for the 2005 Melbourne International Arts Festival with the bloody magnificent Bloody Mess. Seemingly anarchic and over indulgent, some loved it for its absurdity, passion and composed chaos, while others didn’t like it at all. I sit in the love camp.
Spectacular caused similar polarised and confused reactions. The show welcomes the audience and lets them be comfortable with their arty joke; then take the same joke further; and then force it even further. It drove some to distraction, let others have a nap and let the rest of us enjoy the over indulgent meta-joke.
Spectacular isn’t as speccy as Bloody Mess. On a bare stage with some tied back curtains, Death (Robin Arthur) enters and tells us that normally there’s a warm up comedian, a band and some plants. He is quite a cheery fellow, wears the crappiest tracky, skivvy and balaclava skeleton costume ever made and appreciates the irony that his belly distorts the costume’s skeletal effect. Over the next 75 minutes he chats about what the show should have been, shares his thoughts about the relationships between audiences and performers, including those difficult moments when they don’t connect, and critiques the performance of Marshall, who is dying on the stage.
Marshall dies in a way teenage actors die in Shakespearean tragedies – totally over the top, attention seeking and based on every film they’ve seen – but she gets to do it for over an hour. It’s like the last scenes of Hamlet or Reservoir Dogs without any dialogue.
Director Tim Etchells says Spectacular is about the “strange game of playing dead… that can’t ever be convincingly represented.” We always know the performer is still alive, but we always know that they aren’t in love with the other actor and that the pantomime horse is really a couple of people who weren’t good enough for a main role.
Spectacular could be a lot more liked if they cut back the death scenes, put in a new character and delivered some of those promised dancing girls – but then those of us who love them wouldn’t like them at all. Surely, it’s better to have some people who love you and totally get you, than a whole lot of people who think you’re OK.