“There’s a difference to what you say and what you really mean”
I’ve spoken before about the frustration that sometimes pops up when a designer has run wild with their imagination but apparently forgotten to take into account the fact that an audience should be able to see what is going on (The Changeling), but I’d never thought about what it must feel like for an actor to work in unconventional surroundings until I saw Fear at the Bush Theatre. takis’ set makes much use of clear plastic panels, indeed the rear wall of the playing area has three of these which provides aesthetic interest, but prove rather tricky to negotiate in the blackouts between scenes, as Rupert Evans found out to his cost when he face-planted right into one of them at the end of a moving scene. Unfortunately this was the most interesting thing about the production for me.
Fear is Dominic Savage’s debut play, and my heart sank a little bit when I read that he was directing his own work, as the introduction of another creative presence is often invaluable to the development of a piece. That said, there are moments of raw power that emerge from this story of what happens when two very different sides of London clash, especially in the decision to have its main protagonist, rude boi Kieran, directly addressing the audience, sizing them up as his next potential victims for a spot of street robbery with his devoted lackey Jason. And as we get hints of the domestic strife that drives Kieran’s vicious anger, we also meet city banker Gerald whose personal and professional lives are most definitely on the up.
In hitting on such a topical subject as the morality of financiers and pairing it with the ever-current issue of hoodies and street crime, Savage sets the scene for a dark and disturbing take on modern urban life and the hold that money has on our values, no matter which end of the spectrum we are at. But what unfolds is something which largely underwhelms. The parallels between these two worlds, between mugger and banker, are needlessly, heavy-handedly, emphasised (an external director might have convinced Savage that the subtle approach would have been more powerful here); too many of the interesting details around the plot are left unexplored which means we’re left with an over-telegraphed, predictable climax; and even in the short 80 minute running time, devices are over-used – the aforementioned direct address, Ed Clarke’s swells of evocative music – which severely mutes their impact by the end.
And then the ending. An unearned redemptive switch-up, inspired by a ghostly visitation (although this was a ghost that couldn’t walk through walls, even see-through plastic ones…),speaks of a highly unrealistic neatness which works against so much of what has gone before. Savage attempts to redress this with a final shouty coda suggesting a vicious never-ending cycle of violence but like too much of his writing here, it is too knowingly calculating and simplistic in its outlook, leaving a disconcerting taste in the mouth. Aymen Hamdouchi’s Kieran burns with fierce conviction as he challenges everything and everyone around him, Rupert Evans’ very-well-suited and not-too-arrogant Gerald and Louise Delamere as his nervy, pregnant wife Amanda do well too, but ultimately Fear falls down on its writing, which whilst showing potential, needs a lot more refinement to be as devastatingly powerful as it needs to be.