Bread & Roses Theatre
Reviewed – 25th August 2020
“Brave and Bold”
When social distancing guidelines mean that only a handful of people are able to be in the theatre at one time, I was fearful that the intense atmosphere that was clearly intended to emulate from the outset of the show, with rap music and a deep blue lighting when the audience entered, would be dissipated. I need not have feared, Integrity Theatre’s production of F**k Off succeeded in creating an all-encompassing atmosphere of rage and regret.
This was not a show filled with revelry, instead, immense tension was built through hope and a clear vision of redemption. Henry M’Gill (played by Michael Dunbar) is desperately trying to win back the favour that he used to carry as a boxing star, whilst struggling with his past failures as a son and boyfriend. The show centres itself around a climactic boxing match against an American up and coming boxer, who thinks that a win against M’Gill will be his ticket to make a name for himself across the pond. It was the American Dream setting of the show, coupled with a raw and gentle emotion, that allowed it to entirely captivate the audience for the full sixty minutes.
Michael Dunbar, who wrote and starred in the piece was electric. His troubled demeanour was made endearing through a raw goodness which was saturated within his character. This juxtaposition of emotion led us to care about him and his journey a huge deal. M’Gill struggles with the rage from his past, as well as the lack of support in his present, in order to create a brighter future. Arieta Visoka, who played Karolina, gave depth to our care for M’Gill as she portrayed the selfish lover, who only wished to use M’Gill for his money. Visoka’s performance was strong, not fearing to shy away from the clear villain that she portrayed in the story.
Hayley Mitchell, who played Jess, gave a standout performance in a physical scene where Jess and M’Gill share their past intimacy with the audience. The tension in this scene was rife and beautifully directed by Taoana Tsiki and Christopher Lowry as they switch between looking out at the audience and sharing physical moments with each other; the chemistry between the two was intangible.
Dunbar’s writing was excellent and proved to be a masterclass in subtext. The final scene allowed for a rhythmic explosion of emotion by which his poetic writing collided expertly with his final expression. There was a slight lack of clarity over what had happened previously to put M’Gill in the position that we see him in at the beginning of the show; there was a great deal of rage centred around his past with his father and ex-girlfriend Jess. A clearer understanding or revelation of this would have been welcome. However, on one level, these twisted and incomplete secrets make the discovery of the subtext all the more gripping, it just needed to give a little more.
The tech in this show was outstanding. With dramatic lighting and music portrayed expertly throughout the production. A shining moment was after the climactic boxing match, where M’Gill struggles to regain his mental strength. Will Hunt’s jittery exploration of the space between the conscious and unconscious mind was fantastic and gave the audience a real entry into M’Gill’s headspace.This show was brave and bold, not fearing of a total expression of rage; this, coupled with the gentle and almost childlike hopefulness of a bright future made F**k Off a hopeful return to theatre. The bar has been set extremely high.
Reviewed by Mimi Monteith
Photography by Taoana Tsiki
Bread & Roses Theatre until 29th August
Previously reviewed at this venue: