Five years on from its première, Void Story is still during the rounds and continues to delight audiences. It’s a strange but beautiful mix of live graphic novel, post-apocalyptic novel and performance art, but is completely compelling. The narrative thrust of the show follows a couple – Jackson and Kim – as they make their way around a largely deserted realm of cities and forests, coming across various larger-than-life characters along the way. They are plunged into sewers, chased by bears and bundled into army vehicles. It’s all kind of thrilling, really.
Crucially, Void Story does not use conventional theatrical methods of storytelling; rather than seeing all this played out in front of us by actors, the company chooses to project beautifully created, collage-like images onto a screen and accompany them with text spoken by four actors sat in pairs on either side of the stage. Immediately, then, we get a disconnect between story and storytelling, but this makes the plot no less absorbing. The four performers (Robin Arthur, Richard Lowdon, Cathy Naden and Terry O’Connor) fiddle with scripts, tweak microphones and create sounds, but our attention is perpetually given to the on-screen story.
There’s something of the bricolage in Tim Etchells’s images, with photographs merged on photographs mixed with pencil drawing and cartoon creations, creating a dark black-and-white aesthetic which is full of character and surreal charm. Accompanied by occasional high-pitched talking and frequent morbidity, Void Story often treads the beautiful line between deeply dark and wretchedly funny, always spinning on the axis as episodes seem to become worse and worse for our protagonists.
Through all its contemplations of the city and communication between individuals in a decaying world, Forced Entertainment also manages to ask questions about survival and positivity. At one point, for example, Kim suggests that hope and optimism are not synonymous, arguing it is only possible to be one or the other in this terrifying vision of our world.
Void Story also fits surprisingly well into the theatre tent programme at Latitude, with its mix of popular culture, cinematic aesthetic and simple storytelling finding itself perfectly placed on the Friday morning before festivities truly get under way. This is Forced Entertainment at its best, entertaining audiences whilst also interrogating a theme in a form which asks questions about the acts of storytelling and theatre-making.
Void Story played at Latitude.