The pre-set of Facehunters is one of the best I’ve ever seen. I’m a sucker for flashing lights and loud music in theatre (maybe because I don’t go clubbing that much in real life), and as we walk into the Clive Wolfe auditorium for the final show of the festival, we are met with both those things. Pulsating music booms through the speakers, and spotlights circle around the space before the band kick in for our first loud, angry song, shouting imperatives at us: ‘Take my fucking picture’. Sitting in the front row, we are up close and personal with the performers, hearing their voices both raw and through the speakers. Images created by bodies and dancers flash up in front of us before snapping into oblivion. The production is at its strongest when sticking to creating a spectacle, even though the plot and dialogue are often far from perfect.
Graham Mercer’s musical follows a few nights (and mornings-after) in the lives of Katherine, Lily, Sam and Sweetie, all of whom are self-prescribed ‘hipsters’. Their lives feel worthless, and they spend nights out clubbing and taking drugs in order to forget the perceived emptiness of their existence. Towards the end, a storyline involving Katherine’s double – Juliette – attempts to make the play into a modern-day musical version of Picture of Dorian Gray, but this ultimately fails due to the lack of build-up and sogginess of the script. Facehunters is at its best when offering snapshots of youth, both criticising and celebrating in a way that is truly postmodern.
Mercer also choreographs with Megan Griffiths, and in collaboration with director Matthew Reynolds, this is where his vision really comes alive. The theatrical images he creates are better than every other production at this year’s festival, as his eye for making pictures work and move on a stage creates a multitude of environments and communities. Dark, dingy, audacious lighting is offered by Matthew Baker so that clubbing is shown to be disgusting yet desirable (though at one point a song about “D.R.U.G.S” is a little too reminiscent of Mr G, The Musical). The central characters weave in and out of an ensemble of eight drones, struggling to be an individual in an increasingly generic world.
The performances are universally brilliant, each one finding a tone of irony. Lead Laura Johnson carries the show as Katherine, managing to develop a genuinely likeable character out of very little material, and Flick Bartlett as her double is gorgeously engaging in her opening song. The two strongest performances come from Laurence Schuman and Charlotte Ward as Sam and Sweetie, who are given the best songs and are integral if we are to be taken on a journey. Ward’s voice captivates and thrills throughout, seemingly the only character with any real humanity, pulling aspects together even when she isn’t present.
Two motifs repeat throughout; crucifixes and the demand to ‘take my/me’. The former is visible at least five times, as both jewellery and emblems, heightening the irony of the sometimes hellish imagery in this ‘sinful’ world. The repetitive imperatives suggest a group of young people yearning to feel something, no matter how small or for how long.
A lack of narrative doesn’t really bother me, but what is frustrating is an attempt at one. Facehunters would benefit from either a stronger, tighter story or a depletion of the one already present, but as it stands the plot fails on multiple levels. What the production says about hipster culture is difficult to pick apart, though there is certainly a presentation of youthful inertia, demonstrating a group of people struggling to find meaning in their lives (though a reference to what external factors cause this would tighten the points made). At its worst, Facehunters is a try-hard, sentimental musical with some dreadful dialogue. At its best, however, the show manages to create a full-throttle, witty and highly enjoyable piece of theatre that manages to capture a particular mood for young people in 2013.