Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player








A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!


Forkbeard Fantasy presents


The Colour of Nonsense


by Forkbeard Fantasy


Purcell Room – Southbank Centre


19 – 30 December 2011


My first encounter with the experimental, mixed medium collective that is Forkbeard Fantasy was via their Frankenstein at Lyric Hammersmith some years ago. Ever since then, the phrase ‘What shall I wear Mary?’ (as in Shelley) has been something of an in joke between me and my husband, who was with me at the theatre that night and similarly inspired by the unusually imaginative and enjoyable performance.

From the mid ‘70’s, Forkbeard has been experimenting with their own blends of sound, film and live action, throwing in bits of animation for offbeat measure, with varying degrees of success, ever innovating.  In recent years, they’ve also been spreading their now tried and tested techniques through teaching. Until January 8th, you can catch a great interactive exhibition on the Spirit level of Royal Festival Hall in SBC tracing Forkbeard’s trajectory through the years via larger than life puppets, drawings and film clips of the collective in action, as well as their thoughts on some of their most shining moments.

This piece, The Colour of Nonsense, focuses on the oft contemptuous, contemporary art world, something in dire need of lampooning, especially as the Art establishment in England still has a tendency to fall back on Brit Pack artists like Damien Hirst when seeking to represent what British art is all about, as evidenced by Tate Modern’s plans to feature a Hirst retrospective during the 2012 Olympic Games.

 Splash was IT when he was at Art School and I’m not talking internet technology. He was the epitome of cool, but also something of a foolish, big talking fop, so he devised the idea of getting two geekish friends to ‘make his ideas happen,’ while he played front-man for all it was worth. Problem is, his toupee topped fronts not worth much these days, and the exhibition they have three days to prepare for may be their last chance to reinvent it. During the course of the show, one of Splash’s two cohorts, who happens to be an excellent cartoonist, records every nuance of their quest for a ‘real’ invisible artwork within the frames of a comic book, and projected film footage of his hand, seemingly, busily drawing each scenario just as it occurs, leads us along the path to the show’s oh so Forkbeardian outcome.

The set is a combination of office, lab and art studio, with all manner of odd looking techno junk present, some  of it working, others simply working off input from Forkbeard’s (and our) imaginations.  Masters of combining projections with live action, and blurring the lines between the two, film of one of the actors navigating an ‘avant garde’ staircase, only to emerge into the room at the end of it, surprises.

The Colour of Nonsense has a great premise, to be sure, and one intermittently enhanced by sight gags, but here it’s also so holey, it’s like a super-size slice of Swiss cheese. Sometimes the holes are filled with innovative ideas, oft set off by film clips or projections which entertain, but more often than not, they’re not. It pains me to say that, as by and large I consider myself a fan of Forkbeard’s work, going by what I’ve seen of them performing live (in Frankenstein and their subsequent show, Shooting Shakespeare) and clips I’ve seen of shows that I haven’t. But there are long pauses here, which far from being pregnant enough to set things up and generate smiles in the process, only tend to belabour. Granted, Forkbeard specialize in their own blend of B-movie artificiality and vintage proper BBC English, a mix which is often cryptically and ironically funny in and of itself. But in this show, such techniques sometimes tend to seem overused to the point of dulling edges the material might have had otherwise.

That said, genuinely funny moments include Splash’s ‘agent’ Deidre coming up in the lift, in reality, a collapsed screen unfurled or closed accordingly, with one of the actors projected on it in drag behind the grate of an old style elevator, with appropriate sound effects and responses of ‘look like you’re working’ from Splash whenever ‘she’ arrives on the scene. Cedric the pet fly also gets his fair share of laughs, especially when he and a mangy parrot (puppet) manage in a sense to collectively save the day. Perhaps that’s a statement in and of itself, all creatures being both great and, small, as it were…

It states in the programme that although Forkbeard Fantasy are one of the oldest theatre companies in Britain, with the same members they originally had at the outset, namely the three multi-talented Britten brothers, Simon, Chris and Tim, the company has completely lost their Arts Council Funding, like so many other talented groups whose work has been similarly well regarded over the years.

Now that they’ve got nothing to lose, maybe it’s time Forkbeard lampooned the self-congratulatory school ties responsible for such senseless deprivation of the arts, who, in these times of forced austerity, though generally poorly regarded, are still sitting pretty. No strangers to tours of village halls and fetes all over England, and the UK, as well as grander venues, any surreptitious messages contained (or is that proclaimed?) by Forkbeard could be spread far and wide. Now there’s a thought that bears occupying.
Prices:£20 £15
Booking Fee:£1.75 (Members £0.00)
Concessions: 50% off (Limited Availability)
 Southbank Centre
Belvedere Road

FREE Exhibition
Spirit Level
Forkbeard Fantasy: Theatre of Animation
Friday 2 December 2011 - Sunday 8 January 2012
Copyright © EXTRA! EXTRA All rights reserved