Bread and Roses Theatre, London
Presented by Integrity Theatre, Michael Dunbar’s play is an intense look at one man’s attempt to reclaim his life.
After five long months, theatre is very cautiously opening its doors to the public once more. But while the West End is not – it is reassuring to see fringe theatre making a return – and F**k Off packs a powerful punch at the Bread and Roses Theatre.
Written by Michael Dunbar (who also stars as the central character Henry), it follows the rise and fall of boxer Henry and his struggle to get his life back on track after depending on women, drugs and violence to get him through life.
Co-directed by Taoana Tsiki and Christopher Lowry, the production has an intense energy about it that is really effective – particularly during the well choreographed sequence of when Henry makes a return to fighting. There is also a real rawness that to it that is compelling to watch as Henry becomes increasingly desperate to get his life back to where it was.
Throughout, Dunbar’s writing has a reflective vibe to it – particularly when it comes to focusing on his relationships with Karolina and Jess. Scenes with them both are tinged with regret and, anger and frustration and feels painful to watch at times. There are some scenes that feel as though they could be restructured elsewhere into the play, particularly when focusing on the early days of the relationships, while Henry’s relationship with his dad could have been explored in a little more depth – but there is certainly strong potential in this play.
Elsewhere, the use of music and lighting really enhances Henry’s sense of rage and the path of self destruction he has taken. This is of course helped by Dunbar’s engagingly raw, powerful and vulnerable performance as Henry, capturing the complexity of the character that he has created with ease. Meanwhile, Thomas Winter as Billy is strong support as he tries to encourage Henry to get his focus back onto boxing. Arieta Visoka as Karolina and Hayley Mitchell as Jess are both strong and charismatic characters in different ways – and could have been used a lot more to develop better understanding of Henry himself.
The production really stands out in the little details – as the way in which the intimate scenes between Henry and Jess are staged with such tenderness and real emotion, while in other moments Henry’s quiet reflection also offers a real insight into his mind with out a word being spoken.
F**k Off definitely packs a punch in all the right places, with plenty of potential to develop it further into a longer and more in depth piece of drama. By the end I wanted to know and understand more why Henry turned out the way he did.
By Emma Clarendon
F**k Off is on at the Bread and Roses Theatre until the 29th August.