Forced Entertainment have created their own performative space within the history of theatre. Here, theatrical conventions are played out, and they are torn apart. This influential theatre group is a group that recognises the theatre as a central voice within society, and which sincerely and with dedication uses theatre as an arena for public debate; an open, reflexive and poetic space with ethical and social value.

Since the group was founded in Sheffield in 1984, Forced Entertainment have spent over thirty years creating theatre that ‘asks questions and fuels dreams’. The company is an inspiration to performers everywhere, creating exquisitely profound theatre out of nothing more than actors speaking to an audience from a bare stage.

"This year, the world’s leading theatre award is a recognition of theatre as a collective art form, and the theatre’s importance within society". Per Boye Hansen

For three decades, the British collective has explored surprising, provoking and captivating means of creating performances that blur the boundaries between theatre and reality. Here, the often fine line between being witness to a real event and being part of a fictitious one is highlighted, and portrayed with wit and playful irony. Forced Entertainment show how events arise in the individual’s consciousness, and work at the borders of fiction and reality, and dreaming and waking.

From the beginning, an important part of the group’s avant-garde theatre practice has been to attempt to exceed the limits of the visual arts, and to work with children and young people, or collaborate with other artists. Forced Entertainment have developed a theatrical language that does not seek to represent the world beyond the theatre stage, but rather examines the reality of the theatre situation as being imaginary and speculative, as well as a real, physical space of experience – a language they have researched for thirty years.

On this basis, and under the direction of Tim Etchells, the company has developed an entirely new relationship between production and audience, and between new narrative strategies and new theatrical forms. Forced Entertainment’s theatre is not illusory, but imaginative. It is not political in the sense of agitation, but offers the experience of an artistically mediated practice – the performances thereby anticipating the state of another world.

In Tomorrow’s Parties two performers speculate about the future, swapping utopian and dystopian narratives: “In the future, robots will do everything for us... or we will do everything for robots. In the future there won’t be very many people... or there will be so many people, it will be like standing on a crowded train. All the time.”

In The Notebook we meet a pair of twin brothers during the Second World War. The actors read from scripts as if from their own journals – hence the title. The twin brothers’ naivety and childishness make the brutal reality of war seem almost like a fairy tale. In this way, Forced Entertainment manage to make members of their audience into critical witnesses rather than passive onlookers, thereby challenging their spectators to take a stand on ethical and political questions.

While the experimental group’s artistic style is far from that of Ibsen’s contemporary drama, the societal perspective inherent within the group’s performances is much closer. Because Forced Entertainment’s theatre is part of society, it influences society – and is able to change it for the performance’s duration. The audience is drawn into the alternative reality of the group’s theatrical creations in a highly unusual and freeing manner.

"For us theatre is always a kind of negotiation, something that thrives on its liveness and its potential for debate and conversation …" Tim Etchells

Forced Entertainment’s work does not rest with a single form, style or tradition, but represents a seeking and revivifying force; a continual creative exploration of what the theatre is and can be, in a way that has changed the theatre’s possibilities. An award to Forced Entertainment is therefore an award to the entire dynamic, challenging and collective process that is theatre, and to what theatre might be in the future.

The committee has therefore chosen to honour this continually surprising and not least entertaining theatre group because Forced Entertainment revive and challenge the theatre, and recognise and utilise the power inherent in the art form.