NEW stages: Fighting over their share of the cake

Forced Entertainment may be forced off stage by cuts. Clare Bayley repo rts
Forced Entertainment would never make a show about Elvis; only about a third-rate Elvis impersonator living in Birmingham. Celebrating their 10th birthday this year, they have consistently attempted to map an era in which, imperceptibly, the stre ets have become full of beggars, shopping malls and "video shops opened by miners using their redundancy pay". They represent a generation that has grown up never having voted in a general election for the party that won, which in turn has created a gene rationthat never bothers to vote in elections at all.

Now their Arts Council funding has been withdrawn and, in protest, Forced Entertainment mounted a characteristically quirky lecture / demonstration at the ICA last Saturday. Apart from their own feeling of grievance, the company and its supporters fear that the decision to withdraw funding represents a wider hostility in the Arts Council and in the cultural establishment generally towards challenging and innovative work.

Rose Fenton of the London International Festival of Theatre, speaking in their defence, cited Pip Simmons's company in the 1970s and Impact in the 1980s: both companies had a profound influence on theatrical forms and techniques, and yet both have disappeared through lack of funding. In France, equivalent companies have been accepted into the mainstream and given cultural centres to programme and perform in.

The problems with work of this kind are various. Claire Armistead of the Guardian spoke bravely about the difficulty of reading and understanding work that systematically disobeys or subverts the accepted rules of theatre: plot, character, narrative, structure. "You have to challenge the basis of one's own writing in order to write about this work," she said. "It's sometimes easier to say it's not theatre than to work out what kind of theatre it is."

Forced Entertainment's most recent show, Hidden J, was not critically well-received - there were certainly moments of longueur (Forced Entertainment claim that as part of their aesthetic), perhaps even of wilful abstruseness. It was, though, a more overtly political cry from the heart than any of their recent works, addressing English helplessness and incomprehension in the face of foreign wars. It suggested that they are abandoning their tired strategy of using irony as a defence against despair. Aboveall, like all of their work, Hidden J is uncompromising and uncomfortable. But under the conditions of project funding, a company is only as good as its last production: interesting failures are sometimes fatal.

n Forced Entertainment perform at the Green Room Manchester until 11 Feb (0161 236 1677) and at CCA, Glasgow on 16-18 Feb