After acclaim last year in Lately, Fred Wardale returns to London’s Lion & Unicorn Theatre in Proforca Theatre’s new explosive premiere Flashbang, written by James Lewis and helmed by artistic director. We chatted to him about camaraderie, creativity and small-town underdogs. Time to get booking!
Flashbang, directed by Proforca and Lion & Unicorn Theatre artistic director David Brady, will run for ten performances only from 7 to 16 September 2022, with a press night – including post-show Q&A chaired by MyTheatreMates founder Terri Paddock – on Thursday 8 September.
1. a grenade that produces a bright flash and a loud noise so as to stun or disorient people without causing serious injury; a stun grenade.
Flashbang is written by James Lewis and directed by David Brady and mounted by the critically-acclaimed team behind At Last (2019), Feel (2018/19) and the multiple Offie-nominated Lately (2021). Fred Wardale is joined in the cast by Sam Kacher, Emmanuel Olusanya and Henry Brackenridge.
Content advisory: Contains very strong language, loud noises, adult themes, drugs references and references to mental health and bereavement.
What’s Flashbang about?
In a nutshell, Flashbang is about a group of boys who’ve been mates forever on the cusp of adulthood trying to find their way in a world that has written them off. It’s a story about the strength friendship gives us, the bonds we share with the people we’ve grown up with and how a life that seems uneventful can change in a heartbeat.
The play centres around Ryan – who is played by four of you. How does that work? Any potential for confusion with your castmates?
Splitting Ryan into four different parts is a really interesting concept, almost as if the four of us get a different side to Ryan’s personality as the story unfolds from his perspective. Rather than causing confusion, I think it makes him a collaboration between the four actors, and I can’t wait to see what each of us brings to him to tell his story.
Any anecdotes from preparations?
We haven’t started the rehearsal process yet, but meeting for the show’s promo shots was amazing to see the group start to come alive. Even in such a short space of time, the camaraderie and jokes that came through and the potential to bring that energy into the rehearsal room is going to be immense.
You also play Deano. Tell us about that character.
Deano is the wildcard of the group. He’s described as “part Timelord, part Bez from the Happy Mondays”. And that sums him up perfectly. He’s mysterious and sensitive with a loyal heart and a taste for mischief. I love that he’s written in a way that will keep audiences guessing about who he really is. I don’t think even he knows where he’ll be in the next five minutes. But it does make it a challenge to pin down how to play a character so erratic and such a force of nature.
Flashbang is set in “a little town 20 miles from anywhere that mattered”. Can you relate? Why is that important to the story?
Absolutely, I grew up in a small town in the East Midlands. It’s home and I’d go to war to defend it against anyone who knocks it. But it’s not exactly a hotbed of activity and that resonates with the boys in Flashbang because their town to them is the source of all their best memories and partly what stops them from taking the next step in their lives. They’re underdogs with a point to prove that even the places that are forgotten about are real and alive and kicking.
You were last at the Lion & Unicorn with another Proforca premiere, Lately. Are there parallels between the two plays?
There’s always a vein of humanity that runs through all of Proforca’s productions. Both plays centre on ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and the connections that form us as human beings. Lately was a lot more intimate, especially being a two-hander but still had that sense of people struggling to manoeuvre the difficulties that come with small-town life. Flashbang, on the other hand, has that boisterous energy and flair that comes with a group of boys who know each other inside out but still have insecurities that they all keep secret, even from the people they know best.
How do you feel returning to the Lion & Unicorn stage? What are you most looking forward to about the run?
I can’t wait to get back in the rehearsal room and find our way through Flashbang as a unit. The beauty of working with Proforca is that every piece of the puzzle matters. You go in with ideas on your character and the play and come out with completely new perspectives because everyone collaborates to bring out the best in each other and push their characters further than they ever thought possible. Also, rehearsing in the Lion & Unicorn itself means you’re going to work in the space that the run is performed in. So by the time the show opens, there’s a real feeling of belonging and ownership of that space.
How important is the Off-West End theatre scene to London? Why is it important for the theatre industry and for younger theatremakers like yourself?
Making theatre affordable and accessible is so important. Audiences make a production just as much as the people creating it. And the Off-West End theatre scene offers that chance to go and see innovative and challenging pieces of new work without breaking the bank. In London, with such a huge theatre scene, it’s tough to know where to start and how to get your work out there. As a creative, you want your work to inspire something in the people who see it, which makes it even more important that there are theatres out there willing to give new shows a chance to make their voices heard.
What do you want audiences to take from Flashbang?
That there’s beauty and fun in every story no matter how everyday it feels. You should never be afraid to stand up and show that because you never know who that’s going to resonate with, especially people you wouldn’t normally think you share common ground with. Ultimately, it’s about community and how it helps us grow into the people we become.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Come and see the Flashbang boys get in and out of trouble. This play has got everything a show should. Definitely one you won’t want to miss!
Flashbang runs from 6 to 17 September 2022 at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre, 42-44 Gaisford St, London NW5 2ED, with evening performances at 7.30pm, Saturday matinee at 2.30pm. Tickets £14 (concessions £12). CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!