This is my first time stepping back inside a theatre and I return to find it changed in some ways and unchanged in others. The good news is everyone now has their own private box – and by box, I mean a box marked with blue tape indicating where seats can be put whilst maintaining social distancing. The bad news is a mask makes having a sip of your glass of pinot slightly more difficult. Alongside the obvious changes that COVID has brought about, there is something it has been unable to shift: the infectious energy of the cast and creatives, eager to get back out there and put on a show.
Tonight’s show F*ck Off follows the story of Henry M’Gill, a young boxer struggling to balance his personal and professional life. The show is written by Michael Dunbar, who also takes on the lead role. The writing sets the tone of this piece, lending it the grit that the synopsis would suggest. The show packs a lot into 60 minutes, with the tagline on the flyer promising, “an evening of violence, redemption and regret”. All this within an hour running time gives the show pace, but not enough precision to land all the punches.
Aside from Dunbar, the cast is made up of Thomas Winter, Arieta Visoka and Hayley Mitchell. On a stage with no set beyond two stools, the cast are left solely responsible for creating this world, which they manage to do with a combination of good chemistry and charisma. They are able to deliver bold characters in a small space without it feeling overly dramatic or false, which speaks to their skill and talent.
The ambition in the staging of this piece is admirable – to create atmosphere with no set in a black box theatre is impressive, but as a cohesive story the audience are left to piece it all together. The script jumps from scene to scene, cramming in various storylines, causing the timeline of the story to become difficult to follow. The standalone scenes are strong, but when put all together suddenly the show’s purpose becomes confusing. Thematically the piece is clear, but the overarching storyline is a little shaky.
To sum this show up using the extent of my boxing terminology, it throws plenty of jabs, but doesn’t quite land that knockout punch. This show does possess an enthusiastic energy to it, highlighted best by the writing style and acting. With a little more clarity and focus, provided by a slightly more linear storyline, this piece has the potential to, (and I promise this is the last boxing related pun), pack a punch.
F*ck Off is playing the Bread & Roses theatre until 29 August 2020. For more information and tickets, see the Bread and Roses website.