Ovalhouse, London – until 24 March 2018
Guest reviewer: Oliver Wake
Fuel Theatre’s This Restless State is created and performed by Jesse Fox (with additional recorded voices played in) and written by Danielle Pearson. It takes as its starting point the 2016 Brexit referendum result and Jesse’s nostalgia for his childhood as he finds himself devoid of optimism for the post-Brexit future. But – thankfully – this isn’t yet another Brexit play.
Jesse alternates his account of his own personal difficulties with an objective narration of events happening in East Berlin in 1989 and Rome in 2052. In the former, the Berlin wall is coming down; in the latter, a population explosion following a refugee crisis results in a referendum on a one-child policy.
For the inhabitants of each, the world as they know it is falling apart. Jesse feels the same as he struggles as an out-of-work 20-something actor in modern London and learns that his parents are planning to leave the family home where he spent his childhood.
The restless state of the title might be anxious, divided Brexit Britain, the crumbling East Germany of 1989 or some sort of inundated pan-European superstate of 2052. But in a play about disunity and dislocation, it’s also the state of individuals losing all certainties in their lives, left adrift as they are overcome by events over which they have little or no control.
Perhaps inevitably, given his direct address to the audience, the strongest part of the performance is Jesse’s thoughts on the insecurities of his own life. He’s a ‘sofa-surfer’ with no permanent home, endlessly failing to secure acting jobs, and finding the ruthless London dating game dispiriting, his girlfriend having made her own ‘Brexit’ from him just after the referendum.
How far Jesse’s life and problems are real or part of the play’s fiction is unclear, but I’m inclined to assume they’re drawn from life while the other segments are from Pearson’s pen. Jesse is particularly compelling when articulating with anger and humour the chasm between what society tells him he can want and what it actually allows him to achieve.
It would be easy for this to come across as sour grapes brattishness from a young person who has not (yet) been able to realise his ambitions – and hasn’t the life of a young actor always been one of frustration? – but Jesse is likeable and his predicament is, if you’ll excuse a horrible word, relatable. He could just as easily be talking about the insane property prices and exploitative employment practices which disenfranchise so many young people in Britain.
The play is a little less successful in its other segments. The 1989 sequences work well but Jesse is too quick to reach for easy gags about David Hasselhoff’s musical contribution to the fall of the Berlin wall. The 2052 scenes hint at an unsavoury future but fail to fill-out this vision with enough detail and background to make it genuinely interesting, and is hard to care much for its briefly-sketched characters.
I find it hard to draw any definite conclusions from Jesse’s observations and insights, particularly as I failed to give his closing remarks the attention they should have warranted – with the play significantly underrunning its advertised 75 minutes on press night, it wasn’t clear the performance was actually reaching its end, which was a little frustrating. Ultimately, This Restless State is, I think, a timely and intermittently compelling exploration of fractured societies and disengaged individuals.