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Fog, Finborough Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Fog, Finborough Theatre

Fog, Finborough Theatre

New play about a father who abandoned his kids is fierce and terrifying

Race relations: Benjamin Cawley and Annie Hemingway in ‘Fog’ Arnim Friess

Absent or abusive fathers are a staple of British drama. As such, they are both an explanation for ferocious male violence and a metaphor of a paternal state which, in an age of austerity, seems ready to abandon the needy to their own devices. In Tash Fairbanks and Toby Wharton’s punchy play, which is a remarkable collaboration between a woman born in 1948 and a man born in 1984, the consequences of a father’s abandonment of his children are played out with chilling logic.

The plot reads like a social worker’s case history: Cannon, a soldier with the Parachute Regiment, abandons his two children - Fog and Lou - to the care system when his wife dies. He rejoins the army, becoming a sergeant. When Fog leaves the institution that cared for him at 17, his father returns and helps to set him up in a squalid flat. Despite this belated help, it rapidly becomes clear that Fog is a very disturbed young man.

He may have abandoned his kids, but England has left them all to fend for themselves

He steals a knife; he wears a crucifix; he misses his Super Mario game; he thinks he’s living in a war zone. But if his vicious father is not a good role model, then neither is his older sister, Lou, who has survived the care system by developing an attitude, an aggressive and assertive personality which in the end does her no favours at all. She has had issues with sexual abuse and with drugs. Her scars are fresh, and ready to burst at any moment.

But while Fog tries to become a gangsta, his only friend Michael, a studious black teenager who hopes to go to Oxford University, is a complete contrast. In defiance of cliché, he studies hard; he wants to be a psychologist; he is aspirational. Likewise, his older sister Bernice is doing well at work, and hopes to be promoted soon. Not surprisingly, she doesn’t have much time for Fog. The contrast between these two families is deftly sketched out, although it could have done with some more detail.

As a picture of Britain, the play focuses on Cannon’s experience of serving his country and then returning to find that it is unrecognisable (shades of Simon Stephens’ Motortown). He recoils from the run-down estates, with their blocks incongruously named after English romantic poets, symbols of a society where the max an ex-squaddie can hope to earn as a security guard is 12K. Most of all, he realises that no one cares. He may have abandoned his kids, but England has left them all to fend for themselves.

At its best, the language of the play feels like it’s been inhaled through a water pipe and then exhaled to the beat of drum ’n’ bass. It burns, it stings, it makes your blood tingle. Linguistically, this is a tale of bluds, bruvs and boffins. And there’s an intensity and a rush to the dialogue that gives the work its emotional punch. Although the white kids posture and speak like black kids, the slang explodes in the face of truth, and there is plenty of that.

Fired up by this linguistic energy, Fog is sometimes frightening in its anger and desperation. Although it rushes along like roach flushed down a plughole, it’s not perfect by any means. The plot is too simple, and the two female characters are seriously underwritten. Yet Ché Walker’s sizzling production, on Georgia Lowe’s unyielding concrete slab of a set, features unforgettably powerful scenes from a thoroughly committed cast.

As Fog, co-author Toby Wharton excels in his portrayal of nervy neediness, his wired but puny physique a telling contrast to Victor Gardiner’s muscular, tough Cannon (both pictured above left), who looks convincingly like a Forces boxer. At the same time, Benjamin Cawley lends Michael a quiet coolness while Kanga Tanikye-Buah’s Bernice and Annie Hemingway’s Lou make the most of their smaller roles. Together, they tell a story that leaves you stunned by its violence, and its terrible sadness.

Fog is at the Finborough Theatre until 28 January, 2012

The language of the play feels like it’s been inhaled through a water pipe and then exhaled to the beat of drum ’n’ bass

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Brilliant !

I was left stunned by 'Fog' and agree with the majority of your review but I am frustrated at the fact that you, and the play's authors, feel a need to racialise the play. Rather than seeing the play in terms of 'black' and 'white' families I think Fog was simply a chillingly written tale of London life for the many people whose voices otherwise go unheard. As a 19 year-old South-Londoner I can say that I recognise all the characters in this play to some degree and am dissapointed to see the play's website blurb describe Fog as a story 'about two families: one white and dysfunctional, the other black and aspiring'. I honestly feel that race is irrelevant wih regards to 'Fog'. Generalisations such as 'the white kids posture and speak like black kids' are simply contradictions. If anything Michael is more well-spoken than Fog and you can find many a white teenager in the capital using exactly the same language and tone as them both. There are many, many Michael's in the UK but many never fufil thier potential because they fall back in thier early teenage years, many for exactly the same reasons Fog does. I am sure you saw 'The Westbridge' at the Royal Court. For me that was a much better comment, with regards to racial polictics, on our wonderfully diverse nation and the society that it has created, sometimes conflicting, yet undeniably intertwined. This is not a criticism of 'Fog' in any way because I really did not see race as a major issue in the play and that is why it is very dissapointing that both author and critic alike seem to find an urge to define the play in racial terms. 'Fog' is a devestatingly realistic portrayal of life in London for a small, but far from insignificant slice of its population. These are people who are increasingly under pressure and would surely be sympathetic to Canon when he displays his contempt with the lack of opportunites and salary available to people in predicaments such as his - '12k a year! What can you do with that? Small change, small fucking change.' It is a great coincidence that this play began its run in the same week that housing benefit was cut (http://bbc.in/u4hkdt). The pressure this will bring on many families and young people will undoubtedly result in many of the disastrous consequences demonstrated in the play, namely family breakdown. For the most part I think your review is very accurate and incisive. I couldnt agree more with description of language and some of the weaknesses you highlight. However as I have said I am uncomfortable with the fact that you, other critics and the writers feel a need to racialise this cracking play which taps into issues far more complex than skin colour.

In the nick of time, having got wind of "FOG", managed to buy a ticket for the last matinee on Remembrance Sunday (10th November 2013) for this riveting performance. Tash and Toby have collaborated in an inciteful gritty production about a former child in-care making his skewed, blud-bruv way in the world. Toby in lead part was mesmerising alongside his fellow players equally well placed in their distinctive characterisations. Can't wait for Toby and Tash's next play.

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