Bogart

Forkbeard Fantasy Exhibition

In Exhibitions on December 10, 2011 at 12:37 pm

First exhibition I have ever been to at the Southbank Centre, and I have to say, it was ace.

The Forkbeard Fantasy Theatre company is new to me – they have been on what appears to be a constant tour since before I was born, and yet I’ve never heard of them. However, after a recommendation from Anthony Head’s favourite Head of English, a friend and I decided to walk from Spitalfields to the Southbank (bad idea) on the coldest day of the year so far (very bad idea) to see an exhibition about Forkbeard’s props (good idea!). It was excellent; small, but free, and actually well worth half an hour of your time. It’s worth a special trip even, but there’s so much to do on the South Bank, you could easily fill a day there (Shakespeare’s Globe, the Tate, the Christmas market, the London Eye, the Aquarium, Sand sculptors – if you ever claim to be bored on the South Bank, you’re a moron).

Anyhoo – back to the props. You’re greeted at the entrance (just to the left of the entrance to the Royal Festival Hall block of the Southbank Centre) by a talking 3D head and a unicorn. The unicorn is a life-size marionette (can a fictional creature ever be “life-size”? There’s a question for the philosophers…) and you can operate it yourself – children in this exhibit are somewhere on the “OMG DISNEYLAND” scale of happiness, and adults aren’t lagging far behind. It all seems to be down to being allowed to have a go.

As you further explore the exhibit there are tidbits of history about Forkbeard’s repertoire, accompanied by many cute-yet-sinister marionettes, puppets (yes, they are different to marionettes) giroscopes, films, models, and set pieces. Every piece is operated differently, and it’s all done with a hearty sense of humour. The atmosphere was fantastic – children and adults were playing together, laughing hysterically at the same giant costumes moving around. I’m no fan of loud groups of children (I get nervous and emotional upon entering the main foyer of the Science Museum on a school day) but this is genuinely an exhibit everyone can enjoy together – not just because the marketing people say they can, but because they really, really can.

It’s a brilliant example of interactivity with exhibits. The fun of the theatre has been used to great effect and it suits the subject matter – a dour exhibition of scripts and photographs wouldn’t have conveyed the life of a Forkbeard Production at all. I think this is the kind of atmosphere that the National Trust and some other historic houses and buildings have been trying to achieve by letting you play the piano or have a go at Billiards. There is, however, a world of difference between a blue unicorn on strings and a Steinway in a grand ballroom – this kind of approach doesn’t suit a more sombre environment, and should be used with caution (unlike the marionettes, which everyone was using with reckless force, and having a proper laugh). I hate to harp on (wait, no I don’t) but the Enchanted Palace is a great example of how to make this kind of interactive approach work in an historic house. Whilst fun, noisy, and full of life, Historic Royal Palaces and theatre company Wildworks made sure that the palace retains its air of mystery and otherworldliness, and conveys a disconnection with the outside world akin to what its many royal residents must have felt, and it doesn’t shy away from the sorrow and loneliness of that. Perhaps the artistic theatre company is key here – Wildworks and Forkbeard appear to be cut from a similar cloth, but they have worked really well in completely different environments. It’s telling that all the National Trust’s hopelessly wide-of-the-mark “hands-on houses” seem to be in-house affairs…

I am hugely disappointed that I have never seen a Forkbeard production after this exhibition. However, they are appearing in The Colour of Nonsense until 30th December, and the exhibition runs til 8th January. I strongly recommend paying it a visit.

 

POST SCRIPT – The Beeb have now covered this ace little exhibition too – there’s still time to visit! Check out some much better pictures than mine here.

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  1. […] do recommend a buzz through if you ever find yourself at a loose end on the South Bank (see also The Royal Festival Hall exhibition space…and the South Bank Food Market behind it. Nom.). Still, I am privileged enough to be a National […]

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