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Theatre review Gay neonazi

LYNNE WALSH asks why a new play that explores the inner conflict of a 1980s skinhead doesn’t do more to interrogate the creed of fascism

Foam
Finborough Theatre, London

THIS is a flawed piece of theatre, but there is something vitally important at its heart.

The cast can’t be faulted; all four bring immense energy, skill and wit to their characters. The script simply doesn’t serve them well enough.

Nicky (Jake Richards) is full of pent-up aggression, which often finds its pitiful target. At one moment, his neglected teenager falls prey to the charisma of a faux leader, in the next, his strutting, stomping bovver boy, is stormtrooper for any neonazi cause. And he is gay, full of conflict, caught in the conniption of the macho thug versus the simple yearnings of a young man desperate to find his community. We see far too little of the latter, so it’s hard to empathise with the softer soul under the carapace.

Nicky arrives ready-made, a stereotype with few nuances. Richards does a superb job, with the text he has to work with. A few more glimpses of fragility or uncertainty would have served this young actor well.

There’s a neat conceit, though, in his first interaction with fascist fuckery. Sauntering into the public toilet is Mosley (Matthew Baldwin), a leering, controlling interloper, who advises the lad that opposition must be overcome: “You must beat whatever resistance you overcome into the gutter.”

The major flaw here is that we are given no real sense of the threats fascism brings. There is scant reminder of how the cult of the bully preys on the vulnerable, of how the blackshirt mentality targets those who feel disadvantaged.

There are some stand-out moments and performances. Keanu Adolphus Johnson plays committed anti-fascist Bird, reminding some of the audience of the sterling work of AFA, Anti-Fascist Action, in the 1980s and ’90s. The scene of confrontation with Nicky is compelling, as Bird tells him, ”If you have that uniform, you can’t complain when people react to it.” Swastika tattoos maketh the man.

Although Nicky is vehement that he does not indulge in queer-bashing, there is too little made of his emotional conflict here. The conflicting images of the violent skinhead versus that of the AFA rude boy have always confused many, and that needs more of an airing in this piece.

Flaws aside, this is well worth seeing. Kishore Walker is wonderful, in both his roles, as gauche Nicky-fan, burgeoning young gay man-about-town Gabriel, and porn-preneur Chris. The latter brings some much-needed comic timing.

Spoilers should play no part in a review of new plays, so it’s hard to say why this denouement bristles. But the trope of a powerful muscle-man brought to his knees by a vicious virus seems anachronistic. Baldwin’s reappearance in a later role here, though, demonstrates a sweet versatility.

Eliciting pity is effortless, but we should have been left railing against the creed of fascism, rather than weeping over its victim.

Runs until April 13. For more information see: finboroughtheatre.co.uk.

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