FORKBEARD FANTASY arrives at Mayfest with a product to rid the world of its worries. Mark Fisher talks to the company’s boffin-brained brothers about consumerism, surrealism and forklift trucks.
elcome to the weird and wonderful world of Forkbeard Fantasy. A world where forklift trucks are sexy in cellophane, where rare insects drive families of entomologists into fatal frenzies, where angels nestle in the skulls of dinosaurs, where cities grow on top of balding heads. A world of gadgets and gizmos, cheap poetry and latex inﬂatables. A world that makes Vic Reeves seem about as surreal as a Tuesday afternoon shopping trip to William Low.
Since 1974, brothers Tim and Chris Britton have been writing, designing, constructing, ﬁlming, recording and cartooning over 40 shows and special events that slot loosely into their catch-all description of ‘comic theatre and film’, but can be otherwise categorised only as Forkbeard Fantasy. Their current creation, The Invasion ofthe Bloopies, is a send-up of mass consumption, concerning a marketing man who comes up with an all-pervasive lifestyle Option for the 905— the Bloopy.
‘Basically it results in everyone turning into Bloopies,’ says Tim Britton barely able to supress his delighted giggles. Here is not a man who takes life too seriously. ‘They do rather represent the herding instinct from the great morass of mediocrity,’ he continues, well aware that Forkbeard too is playing its part in the mad drive for over-consumption. ‘We’re all Bloopies really,’ he says. “When we’re in crowds, there’s no difference between any of us.’
Away from the crowd though, there are some who are more unusual than others. How, for example. do the Brittons explain their jobs at polite parties? ‘lt’s really
“The List 3— 16 May 1991
difficult,’ admits Tim. ‘We tend to say that we work in theatre. That annoyingly tends to get people saying, “Oh really, are you famous?" So then you explain it’s comic theatre and it’s very visual, and then they say, ‘Tell us a joke,” because they think you must be stand-up comics. . .’
Not stand-up comics, no, but the accent is firmly on entertainment. Often working from story-lines of childlike simplicity, Forkbeard builds its productions around themes or inventions, always with a visual bias and always with the aim to delight and amuse. ‘There is that fantastical quality in the storyline,’ says brother Chris, joining us in the Third Eye Centre cafe in a break from building both the set and the accompanying retrospective, button-pushing exhibition upstairs. ‘The characters are always very cartoonish. Tim’s a cartoonist and provides us with ideas from his cartoon vision.’
‘Nothing’s particularly normal in our shows,’ adds Tim who tends to visualise the productions on story-boards, ‘though it’s not over-grotesque. It’s recognisable; it’s not monstrous weirdness.’
Take the aforementioned forklift truck for instance — a groovy little invention from, Work Ethic. their 1988 show about global commerce. ‘It looked like a forklift truck, it did the same things as a forklift truck, but it was a rather extraordinary forklift truck,’ says Tim in loving memory of a favourite gadget. ‘It waslike a sex-kitten; a real turn-on to the boys. It came with a manual that was grotesquely seductive. It was covered in cling-film and looking sexy and it was perceived to be quite lascivious. Nobody in the drama world would think of putting a character who is a forklift truck
" \ It was a rather
‘ extraordinary forklift truck. It was like a sex-kitten: a real turn-on to the boys. It was
cling-ﬁlm and it
was perceived to be quite iascivious.”
into a show. We always say that our sets are alive and that therefore when you have a forklift truck, it’s not going to be an agricultural machine, it’s a living thing.’
And who are we to argue? Limited only by
the extent oftheir‘imaginations and their ability to construct these surreal visions, the Britton brothers create an all-round theatrical experience, complete with complex sound effects and integrated film
sequences, that leaves you in no doubt about
who is laying the ground rules. Set apart
from their performance art origins, they can ,
be lumped in with a school of idiosyncratic British humour that includes The Goons, Ivor Cutler and Neil Innes. but the actual inspiration for their work is less obvious. ‘There’s all sorts of things that you read as
a child,’ says Tim. ‘It would sound silly to say .
you were inﬂuenced by Tin-Tin — it’s usually Jean-Paul Sartre. But I would say I’d been influenced by Tin-Tin and some ofthe kids books I read as a child. It wasn’t all just British; Tin-Tin was Belgian and there were German books with surreal, nightmare situations. People say Roald Dahl invented this kind of stuff, but children’s books used to be ghastly.’
Upstairs in the exhibition space a long-suffering technician is wiring up a box from which a hand emerges eager to greet you with an endless tape-loop of How do you do?. Meanwhile a collapsible brontosaurus skeleton is stretching out of a suitcase across the room, a row of naked buttocks await a parallel row ofloo seats, and a head bounces up and down from within an eight-foot high church on springs. Like mad professors left alone in a laboratory, the Forkbeard brothers are in their element.
I think I feel a Bloopy coming on, make my excuses and leave.
Invasion of the Bloopies, Tue 7— Thurs 9 May, Third Eye Centre, Glasgow. Exhibition, Fri 3—Thurs 9 May, Third Eye Centre, Glasgow.