FAG/STAG

Thu 3rd – Sun 27th August 2017

reviews

Neil Suchak

at 10:06 on 10th Aug 2017

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'Fag/Stag' offers up an insightful yet surprisingly easy to watch exploration of the complex interplay of masculinity and friendship. The show was written by Chris Isaacs and Jeffrey Jay Fowler (both members of the Australian theatre collective The Last Great Hunt) who also star as the two-man-caste of Corgan and Jimmy. The play is largely performed as the intertwining monologues of each character presenting differing accounts of Jimmy’s recent break-up and Corgan’s inner anguish as the wedding of his ex-girlfriend approaches.

There is a fine line to be walked here between comedic narrative and confronting the darker side of masculinity and growing up - as well as the issues that this presents to male friendships. 'Fag/Stag' uses just the correct levels of self deprecation and charm to navigate a successful balance between the two. Such a line is masterly controlled by Isaacs and Fowler who perfectly understand how to swiftly and deftly ramp up the tension as well as how to deflate it: as the audience watches the relationship between the two characters both fray and repair. Their use of comedy and wit hits raw topics with all the more strength, doing so, however, in a subtle and thought provoking manner. For instance, their commentary on male sexuality is well served by their frequent nodding to the joke of measuring one’s self-worth via Grindr or Tinder: being a point of both humour and revealing poignancy.

In terms of physicality both actors remain largely static in their seats for a majority of the play simply speaking at the audience. However, they command the space well - using their few but pronounced movements to finesse and emphasise the specific, key moments of dramatic tension. The relative minimalism of the production does well to serve Isaacs’ and Fowler’s command of their own characters but also to not detract from the ingenuity of the script. The usage of dual monologues serves to emphasise the breakdowns in the communication between the two characters with comedy but also a poignancy that really adds depth to the characters’ motives and back stories. This is done to such effect that the audience finds themselves empathising with both characters: again a testament to the writing and performance of Isaacs and Fowler. Both characters managed to evoke a broad spectrum of emotions from the audience: from pity and compassion to angst and despair.

At its harshest and most confrontational the play deploys overt homophobia and descriptions of violence, seemingly to shock and add colour to the characters’ darkest thoughts and motivations. However, it only really succeeds in doing the former as it comes off as slightly too blunt an instrument to achieve the desired empathy of the latter: managing to open up more questions regarding the characters than truly illuminate them. Nevertheless, this is only a very minor criticism in a riveting and insightful play that is well worth your time.

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Sian Bayley

at 11:11 on 10th Aug 2017

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Award-winning Australian duo Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Chris Isaacs navigate their way through modern manhood in their latest production, ‘FAG/STAG’, which explores the lives of best friends Jimmy (Fowler) and Corgan (Isaacs) in the run up to their friend Tamara’s wedding. A fun and touching piece that forces both men to deal with their emotions amidst a whirlwind of junk food, video games and dating apps, this show is definitely not to be missed.

Sat on opposite sides of the stage, Jimmy and Corgan tell their own versions of the weeks preceding Tamara’s wedding, with perfect comic timing that gently mocks the other’s own inflated opinion of himself. Tamara is a former flame to them both, having briefly dated Jimmy whilst he ‘was straight’ during his teenage years, and Corgan most recently before their dramatic break up. Both men are now single and heartbroken, but repeatedly avoid taking about their feelings with each other in favour of gaming and terrible club nights; a bad habit that is underlined by their physical separation and monologues.

The play’s lighting and staging is excellent. Whilst it is simplistic, the symmetrical set up conveys the similar positions the men find themselves in, and their inability to find comfort in each other. Indeed, there are some unexpectedly dark and harrowing moments in this play, as the men come to terms with their age, mental health, and sexuality. The use of stream of consciousness styled monologues, however, enables them to explore these issues with realism, as well as tact and sensitivity. The actors wildly move between confusion, anger, and a very real concern that they can’t move up to the next level of Donkey Kong, even though it is designed for 12-year-olds.

Some of the language used in relation to sex and drugs can be difficult to hear and hard to digest, but it is an honest portrayal of the real world. My only criticism relates to the rather quick and cheesy ending, that rounds off the play to the tune of Dirty Dancing without properly examining the long-term implications of the previous hour. Both men seem as sad as ever, and whilst they are now on speaking terms, clearly signalled by the chairs being placed next to each other, their deep-rooted issues have not been properly addressed. Nevertheless, as the lights fell the audience erupted into rapturous applause and wooping, with many remarking how much they enjoyed the play. ‘FAG/STAG’ is a definite crowd pleaser with an important message about men and mental health.

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