Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: Fight Face, Lyric Hammersmith

Review: Fight Face, Lyric Hammersmith

Published on Culture Wars, 23.08.2008

With its whirligig of characters swarming around an inner-city kebab shop like a horde of stray animals, Fight Face ends up as messy and unsubtle as the broken society it portrays. Its cacophony of uncivil urbanites seem so couched in casual stereotype that one wonders whether writer Sophie Woolley turned to anything more than Little Britain and the Daily Mail for research.

Like The Frontline, recently seen at the Globe, Fight Face follows in the tradition of Jim Cartwright’s Road, attempting to capture the essence of a community in picturing its individual inhabitants. However, where these offer oppositions, clashing the poignantly desperate with the humorous, Fight Face remains at one level; always trying too hard and coming up short.

Woolley’s script surrounds Real Taste, a fast-food outlet at the centre of the community collapsing under violence and arson. Behind its counter, unsuccessful romantic Jenghiz mimics his gun-toting, knife-wielding Hollywood heroes. Around him a collection of Poles and pole-dancers, pissheads and pets threaten one another, raise their fists and fight for territorial control, while community support officers, Mary and Charlie, bumble love-struck through their patrol like cheery ramblers in a National Park.

Woolley performs alongside David Rubin, physically mapping out each character with a broadly, cartoonish gestus, most of which lack detail, imagination or precision. As the pace of the piece swirls ever faster, eventually culminating in a chaotic fight scene between several characters, Woolley and Rubin lose control, characters blur and rules change. Increasingly, it grows to resemble a Beano style cartoon riot, where only disembodied fists and boots can be distinguished from a ball of dust.

Morgan Large’s set, however, is the perfect playground: a chipboard skateboard park, bordered and boarded up. In the middle, a thigh of sweaty kebab is impaled on a spike like the spoils of street warfare. Douglas O’Connell’s projections are best when they suggest location: his canopy of neon signs gets to the heart of the urban wasteland of morality. However, at times they become dramaturgically confused, as clip-art mingles with animation.

The main problem is the piece’s surtitling. Admirable though it is for accessibility, the overtly (and often immaturely) performative design of the text distracts, pre-empting gags, sapping empathy and drawing attention from lines delivered to lines missed or morphed.

There are a couple of nice ideas in Fight Face – the builder-philosophers overseeing the world, invisible in their reflective jackets, have potential – but it all feels like a work in progress. We’ve seen all of this before, bigger and with more bite.

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