Dirty Work (The Late Shift)

Ahead of the UK Premiere of Dirty Work (The Late Shift), we caught up with Forced Entertainment to find out more about how they made the show.


We first created Dirty Work back in 1998, almost 20 years ago, and in returning to it now we’re digging deeper into the comical and unsettling territory that we first established just before the turn of the Millennium.

The new piece coming out of this process, Dirty Work (The Late Shift), develops the simple but immensely generative form of described or virtual events, drawing on the power of language to make things happen, co-opting the imaginative capacities of the audience to fill the stage with a delirium of images, scenes and events in bewildering succession.

Think about it this way: inside the theatre there are only the performers and the audience. Onstage the performers have just some material items – flimsy or not-so-flimsy scenery, various props and costume stuff. The audience, for their part, have their coats, their handbags and the contents of their pockets. But that’s all. The whole of the rest of the world ­– its physical locations and landscapes, its entire population, its complete set of objects and its unfolding events – is invariably outside, emphatically absent.

Looked at in this way at least, theatre must always be a way of making presence in the context of absence; a process of bringing in the world.

Approaching their task through this lens, the two central figures of Dirty Work (The Late Shift) – narrators, MC’s of the invisible – are street corner barkers always eager to find a new act, gimmick or show-stopping event with which to entertain, confront and challenge their audience.

Sketched in careful words alone, the show that emerges is at once a competition and a collaboration between the performers, a fragile act in which the presence and complicity of the audience is essential, co-opted as they are as imaginative editors, stage-hands and detail-suppliers for the acts and events that are only briefly suggested in description.

The first iteration of Dirty Work was a game changer for us, the first Forced Entertainment project that explicitly focused on the business of language as picture-machine and the first to work so clearly with the idea of the audience as co-authors, complicit fellow-travellers in the creation of its eclectic and spectacular landscape.

The piece also pointed explicitly to the crossing of politics, media, everyday life and the theatrical spectacular that has become so influential, and often so destructive, in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries. Since ‘98 this particular crossing has got deeper and weirder of course – with scarcely an aspect of daily life or discourse that is not somehow touched by or drawn into it. Everything has its theatrical aspect now, from Trump’s reality-show Presidency to the lives we lead and simultaneously enact and exaggerate via social media, to the tide of news that ebbs and flows around real events, distorted and amplified beyond proportion in the algorithms that govern what (and how and who) we see. Being and acting, doing and presenting, always linked, are arguably more closely bound to each other now. It’s how we live. In between the doing and the staging, the performing of things.

Dirty Work (The Late Shift) is a deep look at this territory – at the pleasure of the stage conceived as an extraordinary picture box and at the voyeuristic pull of the theatre, at the ethics and politics of watching and presenting, at the processes of looking and looking away, at the linked acts of telling, listening, and making pictures.

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