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Edinburgh Fringe Festival: Facehunters

Posted on 15 August 2012 Written by

Facehunters is mental. It’s a proper rave, The Hungry Bitches (yes that is the company name) know how to party – the floor was vibrating at one point. Not even Rock of Ages manages that.

The best way to describe this would be as the RENT for our generation. To begin with, I was a bit iffy about the presentation of youth as drug-addled, self-destructive, vintage wearing bitches. I don’t think ‘live hard, die young’ is a message anyone is trying to promote. But there are truthful observations in this musical: funny comments about social media and the so called hipster attitude. Facehunters is about a very real problem and a very small minority of youngsters.

There are two stories within Facehunters. Sweetie (Charlotte Ward), Sam (Laurence Schuman) and Bruce’s (George Howard) story is the more moving of the two, dealing with drug addiction. The loss of Sweetie (sung bright and boldly by Ward) is made heartbreaking by Shuman, who is worryingly talented at appearing spaced out, but more importantly has a very expressive voice. Indeed, all the actors are brilliant actors with unique voices. They don’t try to sound like conventional Broadway stars, but embrace their own ‘sound’, which is absolutely refreshing in the world of musical theatre.

This musical is already a success in the sense that it’s catchy, which is a difficult feat. Graham Mercer’s composition is very in touch with pop culture, using drums and synth at every opportunity. The thumping drive behind Mercer’s music is the soul of this musical: because of it every movement has impact, every gesture seems fuelled by anger. The choreography is exciting and in-yer-face, and even if the cast aren’t always a hundred percent together they definitely attack it. It’s as if Mercer has written a musical for the 21st century Angry Young Men movement – except 50 years on, there’s more women involved. Lesbians, in fact, again something refreshing to see. Katherine (Laura Johnson) can’t let herself love Lily (Luci Fish) because of a secret shared by her and it-girl Juliette (a predatory performance from Flick Bartlett). And this is where the storyline sadly reaches an anti-climax.

Facehunters is lifted loosely from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and is actually a very good contemporary commentary on vice. If you look beneath the swag and sunglasses, it’s something of a morality tale. If only Katherine and Juliette didn’t spend the climax writhing on the floor, suddenly dying because they’ve destroyed the photo which somehow kept them forever young. It was always a fantastical idea, but it works with Wilde because he commits to it. He commits to it for a hundred and something pages, whereas this element of the plot in Facehunters is barely alluded to. However, the majority of the libretto is laugh out loud funny, a brilliant satire on 21st century fads and attitudes.

What is clever is that Mercer has lifted an amalgamation of similar ideas from Gray – vice, shallowness, status – to focus on the importance of ‘face’ within youth culture. Sadly, the technical team lost face at times where the live band or ensemble would drown out soloists because there was a lack of balance in the sound. As a result, a lot of the lyrics were lost in the noise. It could be argued that the ensemble was overused and should have let the soloists’ voice shine through, but with such a powerful chorus, this musical is as much about a social group as a singular storyline.

It’s very rare you see a group of young people as consistent as this, in such an impressive new musical. The secret is that the cast aren’t ashamed to be themselves and this sense of identity is very present in the writing. Facehunters is a confident new musical – if you see a musical at the fringe, see this one.

**** – 4/5 stars

Facehunters is at C as part of the Edinburgh Festival until 27 August. For more information and tickets see the Edinburgh Fringe website.

 

Veronica Aloess

Veronica Aloess

Veronica Aloess is an aspiring arts journalist and playwright, who trained at Arts Educational School London and is currently studying towards a BA in English with Creative Writing at Brunel University. She is co-founder of Don't Make Me Angry Productions which is dedicated to original writing and innovative performance.

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