“Not only does ‘F. Off’ talk about issues, it lays them out for you, right in front of your face”
The National Youth Theatre has been the home of the best young talent in the country, and ‘F.Off’ demonstrates this in spades. It is an interactive theatrical gem, putting Facebook’s creator Mark Zuckerberg on trial in front of the people. Well, Zuckerberg doesn’t actually make an appearance, but an excitable audience member takes his place. The play exposes the disturbing truth behind algorithms, social media and politics. Did you know that the average person shares 27,000 pieces of data on their profile? Did you know that you can be tracked even if you don’t use Facebook? All of these facts bubble to the surface through improvised interactions with audience members. Masterful directorial decisions are made in this piece, (Paul Roseby and Meghan Doyle) such as asking a viewer if they can look on their Facebook page in real time and tell the audience what information it gives away. Not only does ‘F. Off’ talk about issues, it lays them out for you, right in front of your face.
The stage design (Libby Todd) captures the central metaphor of the play, as said in one of the first lines of text: ‘Why build a net unless you want to catch something?’. The stage has a bare frame, covered in blue netting that ensnares various props as the drama progresses. Every detail, from the set to the direction, has been thoroughly thought-through and has a clear purpose.
There is potential for a show on this topic to become preachy and overly-didactic. However, the three main storylines display the effects of the internet in a variety of ways: through a political campaign, the effect the campaign has on the politician’s child, and the courtroom itself. The ensemble is strong in terms of characterisation and movement (Tim Jackson). Stylised physical theatre sections move the action along between scenes, building a sense of growing momentum. Amelia Braithwaite’s performance of the politician’s daughter is of particular note as she portrays the typical adolescent struggle of trying to fit in, with authenticity and nuance. The ensemble uses music for comedic effect, keeping in line with the tongue-in-cheek tone used throughout. A highlight of this is their adaption of Stevie Wonder’s classic anthem ‘Superstition’, with new lyrics about reading the ‘Terms and Conditions’, as a viewer signs away their freedom.
‘F. Off’ tows the line between informative content and comedic delivery, while remaining attentive to the quality of the storytelling. This piece of theatre should be viewed with no less validity and merit than the adult shows produced by the same company. I can’t wait to see what this bunch of budding actors goes on to do next.
Reviewed by Emily Morris
Underbelly Cowgate until 25th August as part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019
“shortcomings are largely made up for by three exceptional performances from the cast”
S. Asher Gelman notes that polyamory is a subject that’s seldom broached in art, and he’s not wrong. Luckily, his play Afterglow is here to remedy that, following a successful Off-Broadway run in 2017 and 2018, which bravely gives a voice and a platform to an often ignored or stigmatised type of relationship.
Centred around husbands Josh (Sean Hart) and Alex (Danny Mahoney), Afterglow explores the impact that Darius (Jesse Fox) has on their open marriage when their friends-with-benefits arrangement starts to develop into something much heavier with Josh, leaving Alex feeling excluded. The play’s frank attitude towards sex (it opens with a threesome and features a significant amount of full-frontal nudity) allows for a poignant and thought-provoking interrogation of love, intimacy, jealousy, and trust in non-traditional relationships.
Although Gelman’s script doesn’t always feel like it’s taking these themes are far as it could, however, it is well-paced and sporting a heft of relatable and quirky dialogue (for example, a running gag where Josh and Alex refer to their forthcoming surrogate child by the fruit that the foetus is currently the size of). The mechanics of the writing can be a little too obvious, as one character will contrive a reason to leave the stage just so that the other two can remain alone; yet it also never feels like Gelman pulls each thread enough to facilitate a truly satisfying climax. These shortcomings are largely made up for by three exceptional performances from the cast though, as the detail and nuance that their portrayals bring exacerbate the core themes in multifaceted ways. Hart and Mahoney deliver a beautiful domestic intimacy in their scenes together, with Hart in particular embodying Josh with a hugely endearing playfulness – one moment in which Josh mockingly hides from Alex under the pillows of a couch is utterly delightful. Tom O’Brien’s direction utilises instances such as these to excellent effect in fulling fleshing out these characters’ lives.
Libby Todd’s set design is immensely detailed – to the extent that it even features a functioning shower – with just three tables being boundlessly multi-purposed and garnished with a whole deluge of props. If anything, it’s too detailed though, as scene changes felt extraordinarily long with all the table-rearranging and set-dressing that had to take place. This was mired further by the fact that – due to the aforementioned nudity – these transitions also featured the actors having to get dressed and undressed. There was a noted effort to make these scene changes character driven, but they ultimately just felt fiddly and arduous, and subsequently killed the pace of the show.
Overall, Afterglow is a window into a lifestyle that is sorely under-represented and on that basis alone feels vital – it’s just a blessing that the play is also searingly characterful and ruminative too.