Forced Entertainment’s Quizoola is one of the most strangely compelling pieces of theatre I’ve witnessed of late. The show, if you can call it that, is barely a piece of theatre in the traditional sense. Nothing much happened. Half of it was improvised. It lasted 24 hours. And I didn’t go to a venue to witness it; I watched the show as a web stream, online, on and off throughout the marathon performance.
The piece, which is more commonly performed in a six-hour version, was produced as part of the SPILL Festival of Performance, in The Pit at The Barbican in London.
I tuned in at the start, at around 4pm Pacific Time (midnight in the UK where the live audience was settling in for the night), and then intermittently until the same time the next day. I was there for the last 30 minutes.
Describing the show makes it sound incredibly monotonous. For the entire time, pairs of actors in clown-face improvise, in straightforward and often dead-pan manner, responses to hundreds of scripted questions. The questions range from the absurd (“Would you like to be murdered?” ) to the matter-of-fact (“Where are lamas from?”) to to the thought-provoking (“What are babies for?”)
Sitting through the whole thing would have been an endurance test, but a gratifying one, I think. Quizoola is a lot like life in compressed form. It is indeed an endurance test peppered with strange questions whose answers are pretty much unknown, pointless or completely arbitrary. The fact that the actor doing the questioning never discusses the answers given by the responding actor underscores this reality. Quizoola is set up like a quiz show of sorts but there are no right or wrong answers and certainly no prizes for getting it right. The reward comes from simply getting through it.
I didn’t watch the whole 24 hours on the Internet. But dipping in and out has given me plenty to think about. The questions were often funny and sometimes touching. The actors seemed very human behind their face-paint, giving answers in as natural and unaffected a way as possible. The rhythm of the thing was really compelling, too. Sometimes the actors became very gestapo-like, shouting and repeating questions in a frightening manner. The occasional bursts into silliness had the opposite effect, momentarily breaking the tension and tedium of the proceedings.
I had to tear myself away from my laptop every time I needed to run an errand or go to a meeting. I think I could have sat there and watched almost non-stop were it not for the fact that I had things to do outside.
PS I tweeted a few times as the webcast unfolded and was gratified to find a message from Forced Entertainment this morning thanking me for watching. That was a nice and unexpected touch.