Friday: FOG at the Finborough

A mass outing from the Raise the Roof Theatre Appreciation Society to the Finborough, to see the penultimate performance of FOG, a new play by Tash Fairbanks and Toby Wharton.

You might wonder why I would bother to review something that has just closed.  Well for the simple reason that a) it was brilliant, and b) there are rumours of a west end transfer.  So you may yet be able to see it for yourself, and I would strongly recommend that  you do.

I’ve known Tash Fairbanks for years: A and I took pictures for her then theatre group,  Siren, back in the mid eighties… come to think of it, around the time Toby Wharton was born. We went to many of their shows, sometimes repeatedly, looking for the right photograph, The first we went to was From the Divine; and the first photographs we took were, if memory serves, at a Cabaret for International Women’s Day in that salubrious watering hole, Ladywell Swimming Baths Café. That was something of a bonding moment, an audience of bemused adolescents, us and three other adults, the smell of chlorine, and some synchronised drowning being attempted in the pool next door.

Tash is a gifted writer of great wit, many of her phrases have become household currency: ‘I’d nather rot’, ‘You haven’t been happy since the fall of Troy’ and ‘pick a war, any war, it’s all the same war’ all get a regular airing chez nous.

What has happened with FOG, is that Tash has found an ideal collaborator in Toby Wharton. What she brings in writing expertise and theatrical nous he complements with acting ability, and an understanding of current street language used to devastatingly funny and poignant affect, as his Fog/Gary tries to talk up his embryonic drug dealing business.  Gary’s relationship, or lack of it, with his father Cannon (Victor Gardener), is well set up in the first scene, where their responses to the vile top-of-tower-block flat they have been offered are contrasted with a skill that tells you so much about where each have come from, and that they haven’t been through it together.

There is an inevitability about the arc of the story that creates anguish rather than predictability, knowing that there is no way Cannon will stay with his son, despite his best intentions is there like a shadow throughout, and you feel for both of them: whilst each of the characters judge the others; the writers judge none of them.

Wharton is without question the star of the piece; his confused, tender, angry,  vulnerable, incoherent, excitable, forgiving, unforgiving child-man shows every thought form before he speaks it.  The rest of the cast are excellent;they are an ensemble of considerable talent, and each is given their moment, Bernice (Kanga Tanikye-Bush), who does most of her acting with an expressive lower lip, pouting, impatient, scornful, has great comic timing and the contrast of Bernice being herself and acting out who she imagines her boss wants her to be is painfully funny. (One of our party couldn’t resist consoling her after the show for the fact that she was never going to get that job).  Michael (Benjamin Cawley), Gary’s bookish aspirational friend, turns him off in a way that reminded me of Prince Hal giving Falstaff the brush off once he becomes king; first lying about how far away Oxford is and then telling Gary outright that he’s not welcome to visit:

They’ll laugh at you…. they’ll laugh at me,

Gary takes it better than Falstaff, repeatedly telling Michael

it’s ok, it’s your thing.

at the same time as being heart-broken.

The least successful element of the piece is Gary’s sister Lou (Annie Hemingway), who had been using sexual favours to protect Gary from the very lowlife he is now working for dealing drugs. Conceptually it was fine, but in execution it jarred, without being shocking, which I imagine it was meant to be.

The ending was a bit abrupt too, although I loved Gary’s gradual realisation, under his father’s misguided questioning, that he has in fact had a good time out without Michael, and the audience’s consequential realisation that Gary will be ok on his own, which is just as well since his father’s packed bag is lurking behind the sofa.

One of our party was vocal about the need fo a sequel, and a prequel for that matter.  I don’t agree: the sign of good writing is that you go away thinking about the characters, about their past, and about their future; and I for one have certainly been doing that.

© Cherry Potts 2012

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