“A clever, insightful, expertly presented piece of modern comedy theatre, that feels like Monty Python at its satirical best” 4 ½ stars
Note: Fuckboys is styled f*ckboys as this review was presented on the fringe tickets audience review page and they are clearly can’t handle adult language!
Before the show began it was difficult to know exactly what to expect. The description tells of a theatre/ sketch hybrid with satire and politics – so much at the Fringe uses that language, and so much of it fails to live up to it. Thankfully this is the exception. The flyer features a sunshade wearing, joint smoking version of Michelangelo’s “David” and it’s not entirely clear what direction the show will take at this early point. Although there is a sketch feel to it, it is more akin to Monty Python and the Holy Grail in the structure of the sketch work. There is a definite through line and narrative arc.
The story follows “James”, played by James Hughes, from his birth to his youth to his rise and fall as King of the F*ckboys. What is a f*ckboy? Well, the term first appears on Urban Dictionary in 2004 and generally refers to a less than desirable, drug toting, lazy drunkard with a less than pristine moral compass when it comes to their interaction with, and treatment of, women. I always think of Scumbag Steve as a great example of a f*ckboy character. I’m in my 30s so I remember the early days of the f*ckboys, who will forever be linked with the odious Pick up Artist movement.
This particular f*ckboy however seems somewhat different to the cliché in that he doesn’t really seem to want to be a f*ckboy and can recognise the failings of that group. He’s actually a pretty sympathetic character who is pressured through family and friends to go down a darker path that involves a fun and very clever, if slightly longer than it needs to be, modern version of the Twelve Tasks of Herekles. James’ guide on this journey is none other than Kanye West in a show stealing performance from Max Reid. I’m not a fan of Yeezus himself so it was fun to see him lampooned so expertly, even at one point by director, co-star and co-writer Emma Harley. Because Kanye IS gender.
There are a lot of scenes within the piece that may resonate with audiences, or will at least be recognised as being part of rape culture, something that is brought up throughout. The show very directly addresses these issues and doesn’t shy away from the nastier side of University life, even at one point making the audience complicit in a pretty horrendous “prank” with an even darker climax.
What works so well in this play are the performances. Every one is strong and nuanced. Harley and Reid have the hardest task of the trio by having to portray multiple characters, sometimes with very little time to switch off stage. It is rapid, smart, and above all funny in your face commentary on a modern phenomenon. The cast utilised a very small space extremely well, and the direction from Harley deserves to be highlighted for its ambition, creativity, flow and execution.
Characterisation is superb. Reid and Harley easily flit between a gargantuan number of characters with such ease you find it difficult to see them as the same actor, but each as a fully realised character on their own. Reid’s characters in particular are such an eclectic mix, expertly performed, that whether he is Kanye, a gym buddy with personal space issues, or the inspired creation of Dictionary Dave you just want, no need, to watch him perform. Harley too does a great job with her own characters, such as the creepy uncle and the all too brief stint as the mother. Her delivery is on point, and several of her characters have valid, biting social commentary to make – even if occasionally it didn’t need to be as spelled out as much as it was, her delivery and character is strong enough that we can draw the conclusions ourselves. With a lesser performer the spelling out may be necessary, it isn’t so much in this case. Some might scoff at the overtly sexualised nature of some of her characters, but they are absolutely relevant and vital considering the context in which they appear. This isn’t sexualisation simply for titillation but for highlighting our own outdated and troublesome attitudes toward women and the belief some men have that they are good for little more than sex. James Hughes as well really makes us sympathise with his character. Considering the journey he goes on and the character he plays, he might be a little too sympathetic at times- though it does show how patriarchy affects men as well as women, and in modern society it does well to remember that point. I’d compare him to Alex of A Clockwork Orange to some degree, in that his journey ends with his own realisation that what he is doing is wrong (A vital development cut from Kubricks film) and he makes his own attempts to turn his life around. In fact, if he ever gets the chance to, I’d love to see him play the deranged Mr DeLarge. He is forgiven for a particularly heinous action maybe a little too easily, but because of how Hughes plays him, you want that redemption. He makes you realise that at the heart of the f*ckboy is a real person wanting to get out and that many might turn down this path because of their own inabilities to interact with women as human beings and the culture in which they are raised.
F*ckboys for Freedom is an important production, making some important comments on modern society and the way in which men are encouraged to be sexual leviathans even at the cost of their own ethical moral compass and personal development. It does a great job of bringing some very delicate topics to the fore and to do it with such comedic prowess is a testament to the strength of the writers, the direction and the stand out performances of all three on stage. Fringe shows can be hit or miss, but this show is a definite hit with any negatives entirely made irrelevant by the strength of the overall piece.
A clever, insightful, expertly presented piece of modern comedy theatre, that feels like Monty Python at its satirical best. If you think the Python comparison is too much, I implore you to take the hour to see this piece and judge for yourself. I’d take another viewing of this over anything in Pythons 3rd and 4th series any day. If you miss this show, you will be missing out on something rare- a Fringe show that is worth way more than its ticket price asks.
Fuckboys For Freedom runs at Sweet venues, Grassmarket on 13, 15, 17, 23, 25, 27 August at 23:05 and tickets cost £7/ £5 available from https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/f-ckboys-for-freedom