Fragile

Fri 8th – Mon 25th August 2014

reviews

Emily Brearley-Bayliss

at 23:10 on 19th Aug 2014

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After Nigel Francis took a shaky bow, the audience of Fragile remained in a state of profound, silent shock. The warnings that were given before the play, and the controversy that surrounded it when it premiered in Coventry in 2012, are not unfounded – anyone would find the performance hard to stomach.

One man occupied the stage for the duration of the show, writhing on the ground, violently pacing the stage and throwing himself around in an emotional and erratic performance that was truly affecting. In parts, he was so unpredictable that audience members genuinely backed away from him as he approached, and Francis displayed an intimacy with his character that was fascinating, if not enjoyable, to watch.

The script was a semi-autobiographical creation by Geoff Thompson, and allowed us to watch one man’s obsessive retelling of an incident in his childhood when he was sexually abused. If the subject matter was brutal, the way it was represented on stage was even worse. In such close quarters, we were altogether too close for comfort; close enough to see the anguish in Francis’s eyes towards the end of the production. The bio for the show tells us that it is about ‘reconciliation and redemption,’ but no one in the room found any semblance of either of the above, especially the protagonist.

Through his eyes we were thrown into the mind of the abuse victim, sharing his hatred of everyone who failed to understand what he went through and allowed it to happen in the first place. The revelations about the behaviour and fantasies that followed were equally horrifying, and gave us a glimpse into the disturbed psyche of the character.

A more definite decision as to whether this performance was going to break the fourth wall and fully involve, even blame, the audience would have made it even more engaging. The first half was infinitely less effective in terms of emotional resonance than the second, though clearly necessary as both exposition and dramatic build up. This was completely wiped away however, by the latter part, which was traumatising, scary and, above all, pitifully sad.

This show could not in any way be described as enjoyable. In a slightly voyeuristic way it is an interesting insight into the lives of abuse victims, and gives a brutally human aspect to the stories of abuse that we constantly hear on the news. The talent of everyone involved is undeniable, but it is a viciously affecting show and should not be your choice if you are looking for a cheery night out.

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Georgina Wilson

at 23:13 on 19th Aug 2014

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Who is fragile? Nigel Francis, playing “One”, the unnamed protagonist of this play about sexual abuse, is obviously fragile. As is his mother, who can’t and won’t believe that it happened. As are we, the audience, who leave the theatre in silence, awed by what we have seen.

Fragile is a one-man monologue aimed not at us, nor at One’s mother, but at the cold, hard, and unreceptive face of a tape recorder. It’s odd being so emphatically refused the status of audience; occasionally One recalls a childhood snapshot and points at the tape recorder saying “you, you”, referring to his mother; but we are utterly and absolutely blocked out. Francis doesn’t look up, or even lift himself from his half-kneeling half-squatting position on the floor until about fifteen minutes in. This doesn’t stop us being completely drawn into the production.

When, about three quarters of the way through, something triggers One, and he explodes into sudden movements and rips down the canvas from the strange abstract painting behind him, I forget that I am in a theatre and am genuinely afraid of what might happen to us and to him. Disconcertingly, just seconds later, Francis is sitting in a chair with crossed legs, folded arms and a totally different demeanour, having fleetingly but convincingly taken on the persona of a psychiatrist. In the midst of such intense acting, this capacity for multi-role play is surely unprecedented.

Geoff Thompson’s semi-autobiographical script manifests itself in chameleon-esque language. One moment One is explaining that his dog doesn’t need self-help books because “he can lick his own bollocks”, the next he is quoting the Bible, or the Upanishads, or telling us that “pain is the dark night of the soul.” But it all works; the script is brilliantly written, circular and self-referential to reflect the inner writhings of a tortured mind.

One is not a sympathetic character, nor is that important. He admits himself that he has become people that he “can’t stand” in the dead of night; he has damaged other people and tells us that violence is bliss. Most painful is is insistent forgiveness for his father, who twenty-nine years ago drunkenly decided that the dangerous school teacher was a “good bloke.” Most tragic is the memory of the moment when One turns to his mother and asks her forgiveness for what has happened to him.

Nick Francis does a phenomenal job of conveying the full horror of One’s situation, thanks to the bold, fearless ambition of Geoff Thompson’s script. I cannot in any way recommend this show, but only say that going to watch it is a unique, harrowing and unrepeatable experience.

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