at theSpace at Symposium Hall, Saturday 10th August 2013
*Originally written for A Younger Theatre*
Well, there’s something to be said for listening to your critics. After Facehunters was criticised at the National Student Drama Festival this year for lacking a clear narrative (by critics, artists and audience alike, may I add), Graham Mercer and his Hungry Bitches have gone away and honed their musical into a more driven, tamer beast, blazing a trail after its recent success with the West End Twitter Producer competition in London. It still has its flaws. Its still vacuous and overly earnest in places. Its still treading a fine line between ironic and moronic. But then that’s kind of the point. Its fuck-the-rulebook style is so damn seductive and the rhythms so infectious that you want to climb on stage and join in. It’s a musical for Generation Y, and my God it packs a punch.
The story is broadly that of Wilde’s Dorian Gray. At the start of the piece, during the violent, euphoric opening song asking the audience to ‘Take My Fucking Picture’, we see Juliet and Katherine have a photo taken, destined to stay the same age as this simulated image for the rest of time as long as they stay in love. Facehunters sees the self-obsessed, selfish and inert lifestyle of the modern world turn against the couple, as their relationship soon falls apart.
It’s a mainly sung-through musical (and is better for it, as when we do get spoken words, they’re often stilted), with each song taking place in a different location: club, streets, house party. An energetic, pumping chorus supports the more upbeat numbers with superlative choreography and they harmonise beautifully in more sombre moments.
Mercer slyly critiques modern life whilst succumbing to its pleasures. An early song, for example, sees the words “I, I tell a lie” sung repeatedly, followed quickly by a parade of hipsters telling us about their exploits before signing off with a drawling “Honest”. It also considers the value we place on images and photographs, as we manage to judge individuals based on their Facebook profiles.
The B plot between Katherine’s friends Sam and Sweetie features some moving moments, but it does sometimes feel like it’s not quite established enough before its emotional climax (though this scene is followed by the gorgeous ‘Over Spanish Skies’). The insertion of narrators, though necessary, also becomes a little grating by the end due to an over-reliance on exposition.
But this is a hell of a lot of fun and features some fantastic performances elicited by director Matthew Reynolds. The two best voices undoubtedly belong to Laurence Schuman’s Sam and Charlotte Ward’s Sweetie, with their refrain telling one another “I never said it would be easy” sending shivers down the spine. Luci Fish lends good support as Lily, the instigator of the show’s tragedy, and is a good match for Flick Bartlett’s Juliette. But it’s Laura Johnson as Katherine who is most remarkable, remaining intensely watchable throughout with a surprising ability to be both expressive and nuanced simultaneously. It is the intensity of passion which comes from the cast which gives Facehunters its seductive power. I can’t wait to see what they do next.