F**k Freud – Tristan Bates Theatre, London

Writer: Lucio Veronesi

Director: Griffin Mosson

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

The hardest thing for a young actor to do is establish themselves and the stories of overnight stars made from drama school graduates are few and far between. For the majority of actors, it’s a long road to security and that is only made harder when they are typecast from the start. Lucio Veronesi’s 75-minute semi-autobiographical play F**ck Freud focuses on the frustration of trying to make it in London when you just happen to be Italian.

Facing a major personal crisis, Leone breaks up with his girlfriend and endures a series of humiliating auditions for Italian roles arranged by his patronising agent. Working in a well-known cinema chain while he waits for his big break, Leone’s frustrations with the way other cultures and nationalities are depicted in everyday life start to overwhelm him, and as friends move on, Leone wonders whether the big time is really worth the wait.

With the darkening mood of the last few years, London continues to think of itself as a welcoming global city where all kinds of people live and work side-by-side in relative harmony. The truth, as Veronesi’s play so forcefully reveals, is that beneath the surface cultural stereotyping and dismissive behaviours are surprisingly prevalent. The casual failure to remember a film title about Asian characters, the assumption that Leone will only want to play Mafia dons and Super Mario, or the failure to say or spell his name correctly may seem minor, but collectively suggest a city that’s not quite a worldly as it claims.

The building irritation and pressure on Leone feels honest and enlightening, and Veronesi has a good ear for realistic dialogue while creating a collection of amusing, but pointed, character roles for the rest of that cast that skewer these attitudes for comic effect. Running alongside is Leone’s dream of being taken seriously, and he longs to play Mark Anthony in Julius Caesar but, despite being an Italian character, it’s a dream he won’t fulfil.

There are a lot of elements in F**k Freud, all there to create a patchwork of personal and professional pressures that affect Leone’s mental health, although some of these never reach their full potential. A subplot involving his ex-girlfriend has at least four scenes but only one is really needed to give the story its context, while the move towards surrealism in the final third could be introduced far earlier to reinforce the growing effect on Leone’s mental health that would lead more directly into his final, poignant monologue.

Veronesi creates a highly sympathetic protagonist and while he behaves badly on occasion, there is a strong sense of how lost and adrift Leone feels in a life with little structure, far from his family. The ongoing irritation that his nationality is reduced and belittled is well conveyed, while the growing isolation is well charted.

Robbie Fletcher-Hill almost steals the show in a series of energetic and exaggerated comic skits, playing an over-exuberant casting director giving the auditionees tips on how to be better, a fantasised Super Mario who visits Leone in a dream, and his supportive friend Eddie. Jason Imlach is particularly good as the super slick but air-headed agent and a vague cinema co-worker, while Siobhan Gallagher’s characters capture casual dismissiveness well.

On a slightly bigger stage there would be less scenery shifting but Matteo Iacoboni’s keyboard compositions atmospherically cover these small transitions. The story may be fictionalised and often very playful but there is kernel of truth here that makes F**k Freud an effective piece of theatre about the assumptions we make about nationality and why young actors have to force a space for themselves if they want to be noticed. And if anyone is casting Julius Caesar any time soon, there’s a young Italian actor here who’d love to be Mark Anthony.

Runs Until:  7 December 2019 | Image: Contributed

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