FURIOUS FOLLY, Mark Anderson
Sat 13th Aug 2014, Northcroft Park, Newbury
To mark the centenary of the First World War, Mark Anderson and his team of artists evoked the inconceivable madness of war with a Dada-ist, open air night time performance that immersed the audience in overwhelming sound, light, and pyrotechnics.
Furious Folly was one of 27 new works commissioned by 14-19 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War Centenary. Artist Mark Anderson was first approached by 101's Simon Chatterton, who asked if he’d like to make a piece that would mark the centenary of the first use of gas in the war.
The commission was for the town of Poperinge in Belgium. Anderson recoiled at the idea.
But after reading the Horrible Histories childrens’ book on the First World War, he began to research lesser known stories of deserters, and women who worked in munitions factories who were nicknamed canaries, because their skin turned yellow from prolonged exposure to TNT. Anderson and his team of artists also found inspiration in the ideas and aesthetics of the early twentieth century Dadaists and Cabaret Voltaire, who eschewed structure and official war time propaganda narratives.
Arriving for the show, the audience assembled, and were split into two halves, through the device of selecting different coloured toy soldiers that were mutilated, missing limbs.
The colour of the soldier they chose determined where they would end up next. They were penned into 2 enclosures under tannoys playing recordings of anti war songs from the era, not knowing what to expect.
Then they were marched to the show site where they were literally 'coralled' and found themselves divided on either side of the performance area, behind ropes, between two towers with wires stretching overhead. The two audience groups stood physically opposing each other as if on the front line. The arena was a rectangular, eerily white stained space with makeshift towers in each corner, strange metal trees, sandbags and mechanical canaries singing in cages.
The performance took place at night. Fear, darkness and the senses were active ingredients in the experience, along with disconcerting sounds and noise, pyrotechnics, smoke and gas cannons. At the sound of a shrill whistle, ropes were dropped and the audience entered no-mans land. Characters on podiums read letters from and to soldiers on the front, a crazed victim of shell shock ranted insanely about the carnage; a women nailed rag dolls like children to a tower; and a lullaby was sung about shell shock and the shooting of deserters, written and poignantly sung by one of the performers.
A metal tree, bedecked with canary cages, stood in the arena and at one point the whole audience was immersed in clouds of thick smoke that drifted over no mans land until their vision was obscured almost to blindness. Disorienting waves of sound eminated from the four corners of the arena.
Musicians played from the towers – a combination of gongs, pyrotechnics, strange scratching, sirens and pummelling concussive bangs which built and crashed in overwhelming waves, breaking into moments of peace.
The rhythm of the show was based as much in musical score as visual performance. The piece ended as a metal tree burned with blue flames; recordings of politicians from WW1 to the present day glorifying war moved overhead; and finally sounds of protest and refusal to participate in war, voiced by the performers.
“It really gave a sense of a frontline. The performance built up and up. There were fireworks, there was noise, there were bright lights and there was noise everywhere. It was overwhelming, like insanity, it was like being in a three-dimensional nervous breakdown. There was a political edge at the end of the piece which really left you thinking, ‘what is the point of war?’ That was really powerful. One of the performers put up a sign at the end that was clearly political and pacifist.” Audience member, Janet Barlow.
Furious Folly was also performed at Poperinge in Belgium, Sutton Park in Birmingham, Preston Park in Stockton-on Tees, Oxford Magdalen College, and at Mount Pleasant Park in Weymouth.