Flashbang – Lion and Unicorn Theatre, London

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Writer: James Lewis

Director: David Brady

Men talk. Some talk a lot, too much even. The tragic reality is, however, that most men do not talk about the right things to the right people. There’s a world of football scores, previous nights out, comparisons of crisp flavours or beers to discuss – why would anyone want to bring up feelings or fears? And, even sadder, some men do not have anyone to even talk about those things with.

The talking part is the iceberg’s tip when it comes to the genuine difficulty among men in general having a healthy relationship with their emotions and being able to work through them openly. James Lewis’ play highlights the impact a sudden, terrifying event can have on a group of young men, exploring the challenge they have in coming to terms with it. This is a prototypical group of mates. Nice lads, reminding each other not to be a dick, genuinely happy for each other’s happiness, and supportive. It could be your group.

When one of the five dies in an accident, they struggle to deal with it, and are not helped by the police and language of officialdom when describing the very human trauma they’ve been through. Individually and collectively, we see them admit they don’t talk about the big things enough before finding a way through.

The story is conveyed through super casting of the four friends on stage. We have Ryan – the normal one (Sam Karcher), Andy – the music guy (Henry Brackenridge), Deano – the mad one, up for anything (Fred Wardale) and Jason – a ladies’ man and questionable footballer (Emmanuel Olusanya). In an interesting twist, they all play a version of Ryan at times so it takes a moment to figure out who is being who at what time. Sometimes it’s not clear if they’re “Ryan” or another friend. It works nicely – blending the group together to illustrate the shared experience.

Making important points, Lewis refrains from diving too deep. It’s more a description of the run up to, the event, and the immediate aftermath with the awkward wake and the funeral. So we’re looking largely at a short term trauma response (anger, deflection etc.), not the bigger picture. Pacing through this play-by-play account of what happened and how they’re feeling, some threads are introduced and barely treated – like their insular community, their small-town prospects and lack of desire to go further, their families (apart from a touching section about Ryan’s dad). By the end, the message (apart from the promotion of talking openly) is not that clear.

It’s not setting out to change the world of male mental health. It gives us a bite of the whole piece, something manageable and digestible. Friendships matter, and if they’re the right kind you can absolutely talk about more than what the best chocolate is in a bag of Revels or the local football league side’s latest loss. With no set to speak of apart from some chairs, it relies on light and sound to frame this message – and the reliance on the four actors pays off.

To some, this may feel like being told for the umpteenth time something we already know. It’s vital to say it again though and keep saying it until men in general improve their ability to deal with grief and trauma in a healthy way. And this time it’s in an attractive, engaging and thoughtful format.

Runs until 17 September 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

attractive, engaging and thoughtful format.

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