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Dirty Work (The Late Shift) at Battersea Arts Centre

Dirty Work (The Late Shift) Forced Entertianment - Credit Tim Etchells
Cathy Naden and Robin Arthur in Dirty Work (The Late Shift). Photograph: Tim Etchells

Forced Entertainment. The clue’s in the name. Forced Entertainment’s revived production of Dirty Work is imagination, language and overt theatricality forced upon us. Two performers (Robin Arthur and Cathy Naden) talk us through the action of a five-act play. Arthur wears a green shirt, Naden wears a purple dress; both reflect the tangible light of their silky surfaces. Terry O’Connor sits in the back corner of the stage; on the table in front of her sits a large briefcase, disguising a record player which she uses to play two underpinning tunes, repeatedly throughout. All three performers are encased in a curtain of dyed-purple cloth, creating the shape of the proscenium arch in which they perform.

The text is saturated with observation: of failure, of death and tragedy. Arthur’s delivery is tinged with truth; with fact. Language leads to tangents, to further expression, to other tragedy. A decision needs to be made in parliament; a minister produces language, colour, jargon, yet no decision is made. No action is taken. This is all too familiar and painfully striking in its omnipresence, from a piece originally performed nearly twenty years ago, updated with mentions of Trump and Brexit.

Graphic description is monstrously punching to the gut in the telling of ‘tragic, if predictable, consequences’ of action. Lighting warms and cools with potent thought from lighting designer Nigel Edwards.

Theatre going itself is analysed; dissected. ‘A fourth wall is built, it’s criticised, it’s demolished’, says the text. Yet for a piece which so closely observes and tests the traditional realms of theatre, there is too much safety for its audience. They talk of breaking down the fourth wall and hypnotise us with their music and poetry, but we are forced to sit in a conventional seating block facing the windowed stage. Perhaps this ought to be re-thought. With its mediatory tone, it cues sleep, rest, listening, yet its form does not allow such response. Or at least, such response is certainly not openly encouraged.

It gets long and slow. There is no jump or jar in the text after the piece reaches its halfway point and dullness consequently ensues. The music becomes hypnotic, almost provoking fear like a reoccurring nightmare that gets stuck in an endless loop of existence. For all its poignant beauty and keen observation of life which is truly stunning, this Dirty Work perhaps gets a little too caught up in its own imagination.

3 Star Review

Review by Joseph Winer

Two performers conjure an extraordinary performance in a collaborative and competitive act of description.
From vast explosions to sub-atomic particles with daily life, political interludes and cabaret turns in between, no event is too large or un-stageable for the protagonists, whose game of virtual theatre takes the audience on a roller coaster ride, celebrating the power of language to make things happen.

Provocative, intimate and comical, Dirty Work (The Late Shift) exposes a world in which real life is presented as spectacle.

Forced Entertainment re-imagine their 1998 performance for contemporary times, co-opting the imagination of the audience to fill the stage with a delirium of images, scenes and events in bewildering and unnerving succession.

Director Tim Etchells
Devised and Performed by Robin Arthur, Cathy Naden and Terry O’Connor
Created with input from Richard Lowdon & Claire Marshall
Lighting Design Nigel Edwards
Design Richard Lowdon
Production Management Jim Harrison

27 Jun – 1 Jul
Forced Entertainment


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