Review: Force Field (Basement Theatre)
Updated: Jun 2, 2022
The search for love is a classic set up for any play, film, or novel, and more often than not they follow a similar formula - two people meet, they fall in love, there is a conflict and they decide whether or not to be together. Duncan Armstrong and Isobel MacKinnon have a different take on the typical journey with "Force Field". Armstrong plays Chris, a cleaner living with, and constantly pestered by, his mother. Struggling to find excitement and connection in his life, Chris builds on his fantasy of living with a girlfriend called Fiona in the woods and finds a being exactly like her, and the line of reality and imagination is blurred.
The concept of the show is original and leaves a lot of room for creativity, especially as breaking the traditional love-finding tropes means that the end result of the romance is never predictable. The ambiguity about what is real, what is fantasy and whether that question even matters drives the performance and opens a window into the life of someone longing for love but confined by isolation and the mundanities of his life, especially as the show is performed and created by someone with learning disabilities.
The shows is based on the experiences of Armstrong. His character is totally endearing and played with affection. In an early scene in which he dances while vacuuming you can practically feel the joy oozing out of his performance. Unlike most solo performances, instead of playing multiple characters the whole performance is Chris interacting with a distorted voice over, giving a more in depth exploration of loneliness, love, hurt, and acceptance.
MacKinnon's direction combined with the creativity of the design (Jason Wright's composition particularly stands out, evoking a distant and otherworldly atmosphere) work to make there air of possibility needed for a story in which a main character may or may not be entirely imaginary. The comedic timing and romantic tension balance out beautifully.
The show is an hour long, and given the lack of distractions and other characters in the piece that should be a fitting time to follow the arc of their relationship. Time was taken to focus on Chris outside of his existence with Fiona, as well as for some more theatrical moments exploring the space of the stage and Chris's imagination. Ultimately this felt detrimental the the narrative and flow of the performance. Sections seemed to go on slightly longer than necessary, while others seem to have little relevance to the overall aim or story (such as when Armstrong growls from behind some of the transparent plastic screens that make up the set), their original intention in the piece lost on the audience. While Armstrong's performance is strong enough to ensure that these sections are still entertaining, by the end the time-filling moments left it feeling a little hollow and unsatisfying.
When the show works, it shines. It plays with interesting themes while taking a twist on a traditional love story, and while the pacing issues are a shame given the obvious potential of the show given the team behind it, one can easily look past it to see the strength in the performance and concept. Three stars.
Whispers from the crowd:
"Amazing - I would recommend it to anyone"
"I totally went there with him"