“You don’t understand. Once they push you out, you’re in freefall, you’re on your f**king own”
One of the first new plays of 2012 is this jointly written play Fog at the Finborough Theatre in West London. Toby Wharton is an actor – he stars here – and this is his first attempt at writing, but Tash Fairbanks is a comparative old hand, having started up a lesbian feminist theatre company before Wharton was even born. But they have collaborated on this hard-hitting tale of the impact of a deficient care system on a brother and sister.
Fog and Lou were put into care by their father Cannon after the death of their mother as he retreated back to his career in the military, but when he returns 10 years later to try and make amends, he soon sees that the damage his actions caused has no easy solution at all. Getting a new flat means that Fog is able to leave his detested care home and can begin to try and reconnect with his father. But Lou has gone missing and this shattered family is contrasted with Fog’s only real friend Michael and his sister Bernice, black and much more aspirational.
The bleak existence of council flat living is effectively captured in Georgia Lowe’s stark set. And Toby Wharton’s Fog is the perfect disaffected youth with his affected patois, satisfied with securing small-time drug dealer status, but severely scarred by his experiences and so clinging onto his father’s every word and action. But Cannon has his own issues, a returning soldier who is struggling to readjust and unable to find decently-paid work, and emotionally ill-equipped for fatherhood. As Fog, Wharton’s nervy intensity plays off Victor Gardener’s brawny blokiness as Cannon perfectly; their scenes together have a real potency and an explosive dynamic.
But the play feels a little less successful in its supporting world. Fog’s relationship with Michael felt a little contrived, but even so I was disappointed that Fairbanks and Wharton weren’t able to build on the promising start there and fell back to a predictable gloomy status quo, Benjamin Cawley offering a quiet strength as the student whose hard work and imminent departure to university offers a real escape from the council estate. Annie Hemingway is good though under-used as Lou, whose return splits Fog’s loyalties as she blames their father entirely for their mother’s death and their ensuing abandonment. And Kanga Tanikye-Buah offers comic relief as Michael’s career-minded sister who can’t stand anyone from Fog’s family.
At its best, Fog is a fiercely felt piece of new writing that punches hard and promises much. Ché Walker’s production delivers as best as it can, though there is no doubting that the play loses impact when it veers away from the central relationships of this shattered family. But the potential suggested by this writing team makes it worth the effort and brings a neat end to the Finborough’s 2011-12 New Writing Season.