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The Notebook by Forced Entertainment at Battersea Arts Centre – Review

The NotebookBAC is one if the most exciting venues in London. The atmosphere is at once welcoming and challenging. One feels the creative energy almost from the moment of arrival. They have an ideal partner in Forced Entertainment, who are not afraid to confront major moral and emotional issues in ways that may not be easy or comfortable to watch, but which stir the mind and leave one still engrossed in the questions they raise.

In the case of The Notebook, the questions are about war and survival. The play is based on a novel by Ágota Kristóf and is told by two brothers who are sent to live with their grandmother on her farm because their mother cannot feed them.

If this sounds like a version of one of those fairy tales where children go into the woods, it is, at least in the narrative style, which is a series of short scenes, written in the voices and (almost) the language of children.

The two brothers, brilliantly played by Richard Lowdon and Robin Arthur, read their story from the notebook they keep, which gives the play its title. Dressed identically in maroon sweaters, grey jackets and glasses, they record the actions around them: the local fear of their grandmother, the acts of cruelty and violence which close in and within which they try to find a code with which to survive.

The notebook is their way of finding a path through the increasing chaos. Although there are two of them, they speak as one voice, and become, in fact, one person, speaking as a single entity. “We have a very simple rule: the composition must be true,” says one of them, referring to their record. But what is true? Even the place they inhabit has an emotional resonance that may or may not be its own. War is all kinds of truth and falsehood; who are the victims? Who are the villains? The boys record the conflicting ‘facts’ they encounter in a world collapsing into moral chaos.

The play is deceptively simple, a riveting and disturbing trip through layers of meaning that lie beneath the unsparing accuracy of a child’s observations. This play only runs until the 14th November 2015, which is a pity; it deserves a wider audience.
4 stars

Review by Kate Beswick

The Notebook
Fresh from a variety of touring including festivals in Latvia and the Stockholm Fringe the UK’s leading experimental theatre group Forced Entertainment return to their London home with a two-week run of their first-ever literary adaptation. The Notebook, by Hungarian writer Ágota Kristóf, will play at Battersea Arts Centre this November having sold-out its UK premiere at the venue during LIFT 2014.

Set during World War Two, The Notebook tells the story of twin brothers evacuated to their impoverished grandmother’s farm in order to shelter from the conflict. These unnamed children are social outsiders, mavericks who survive and understand the world by a harsh private code. As the war deepens, the brothers are slowly revealed as struggling moralists, trying to live by consistent principles in a Central Europe crumbling into cruelty and opportunism. Kristóf’s bold and reduced narrational language provides the basis for a unique and compelling performance about the impact of war from the perspective of those caught in its machinery.

Conceived and devised by the company.
Performers Robin Arthur, Richard Lowdon
Direction Tim Etchells
Design Richard Lowdon
Lighting Design Jim Harrison
Production Jim Harrison
The Notebook is a Forced Entertainment production.

Listings information:
The Notebook
Forced Entertainment
Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, SW11 5TN
3rd – 14th November 2015
7:30pm (Running Time: 120 min)


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