Creator: Mark Anderson
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Sutton Park, just outside Birmingham, was the home of two local pals’ regiments while they were in training and was subsequently used as a hospital for Australian and New Zealand servicemen during the First World War. So in the week where Britain has been commemorating and remembering the horrors of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, it is apposite to experience Furious Folly, an outdoor event that bills itself as “art, war and insanity on a grand scale” and which is set somewhere in No Man’s Land, in the park as darkness falls.
Furious Folly is part of 14-18-Now, a five-year commemoration of the war to end all wars. But if you went expecting to see chirpy Tommies laughing in the face of danger you would be disappointed. Creator Mark Anderson has crafted this experience after the founders of Dadaism, a movement that was anti-war and found itself on the far left politically. They rejected what they saw as the ideology of capitalism, which, they believed, had led to the war. This rejection was expressed in anti-art, and the embracing of chaos and irrationality. And Anderson makes his point powerfully and memorably.
As the light fails, the audience sees a line of young Tommies, their faces obscured by geometric, monochrome make-up. Then suddenly, we are on the move for a pre-show of contemporary music and news reports of how some groups of soldiers formed themselves into soviets and rebelled, some even trying to march on Paris, with the inevitable result as rebellions were squashed. Then we move to a larger area where the main event takes place. This is a rectangular space, with towers, designed by Jony Easterby and Paul Batten, at each corner. Inside are skeleton trees hung with birdcages. For most of the time, we are inside this area.
In keeping with the Dadaist philosophy, there is no clear narrative. There is repetition as a man and woman, in towers diagonally opposite, play ping-pong with words, that both lose their meaning but also gain power with each recursion. We hear how they each long for letters and also how war is institutionalised, organised, mechanised murder. Helen Gregg and Aurelian Koch provide this sonic backdrop, accompanied by atonal bugling and drumming from Stuart Henderson and Graeme Leak respectively. Leak is also the overall sound designer.
Stuck in No Man’s Land, we also see and hear the trails of shells, produced by the stunning pyrotechnics of Pa Boom. The whole is an unremitting assault on the senses leaving us disoriented – like, though to a somewhat lesser degree, that disorientation experienced by servicemen on both sides during the conflict. But there are times of silence which, rather than bringing some comfort, almost feel more ominous than the onslaught on our ears as we have a brief opportunity to reflect on theexperience.
The imagery is harsh and hard-hitting. The senses are overwhelmed with the sounds, light and pyrotechnics that hit the emotions squarely. One cannot help but be moved by the whole event, an unusual, hard-hitting and sobering experience.
Runs until 9 July 2016 and in Stockton-on Tees on 4 and 5 August 2016 | Image: Mark Anderson