Like this play, the statistics are disturbing. 43% of children who go through the care system are diagnosed with a mental health disorder and, while care leavers make up only 1% of the UK population, they represent 23% of our prison intake.
This collaboration between 27 year old writing newcomer Toby Wharton and veteran feminist playwright Tash Fairbanks follows Gary and his sister, Lou, as they reunite with the father who abandoned them to Brook House Care Home. A soldier returning to the UK after ten years of service, Cannon learns that facing the institutional damage his children have suffered in his absence is more difficult than dealing with the horror of war.
Wharton, performing as well as co-writing, plays Gary – or Fog as he insists on being called – and is so good that he is often too painful to watch. He raps and postures, seemingly only interested in the size of his plasma TV, the model of his non-existent car and the millions he will make from his fantasy drug deals. Yet when he looks out at the audience, his eyes betray the abandoned seven year old boy he still is, and this transformation, from bragging rude-boy to a child sobbing over a lost Super Mario game is shockingly effective. Fog never speaks of his past experiences, but Wharton’s skilful portrayal shows the split that has been caused inside him; embodies the unlivable psychological state in which he is caught and lets us watch how a descent into madness and violence can occur.
The only relationships Fog has are with his father, and friend Micheal. These are moving and insightful with growing moments of misunderstanding bringing wit to this sickeningly sad story. With experience as a grime MC himself, Wharton’s dialogue is convincingly gangsta. The poetry and rhythm of Fog’s brutal and self-deceiving mantra builds until the wall of words becomes a physical trap; he is left behind them with no way to express his real feelings: still completely alone.
The supporting cast is strong, but in contrast to the depth Wharton gives Fog, the people around him feel underwritten; his sister is only present to provide an excuse for his rants and the subplot of Micheal’s family is unconvincing. Despite growing up motherless in a similar tower block to Fog’s, Micheal is off to Oxford University. This plot decision lacks the detail needed to make it believable and seems crow-barred in to make an unrelated point.
We are told that this play grew out of Wharton’s audition piece for RADA and at times it still feels too much like a one man show. As with his recent production of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea for Southwark Playhouse, Che Walker’s direction draws great performances from his actors, but the un-changing set and ill-fitting musical interludes distract and there’s a lack of structure which prevents tension from building as it might. Ultimately, despite the tremendous power of the central performance and the intensity of the subject matter, it remains more a fascinating character study than a wholly satisfying dramatic experience.