We’re defined by our experiences, good and bad. They affect how we act and respond to what life throws at us. But what if your life is perfectly generic? What if you live in a place where everything’s always the same, where nothing happens, where you expect to grow up just like your parents did before you? That is very much the premise for Proforca Theatre’s Flashbang.
Of course, there is no such thing, as our four young men are about to find out. We’re aware from the start something bad has happened. As our four introduce themselves, behind them are childhood photos. Except there are five photos. Someone is missing.
Flashbang, much like the football referenced in jargon littered throughout their conversation, really is a play of two halves. In the first, the friends are young and carefree, convinced they will grow old together, nothing will change that. Then there is the second half, after THE incident. Suddenly they discover life isn’t the same for everyone, we don’t all grow old together then die.
The story starts at a breakneck speed, the four (Sam Kacher, Emmanuel Olusanya, Henry Brakcenridge and Fred Wardale) bouncing off each other as they introduce us to their generic lives and families. Their performances are testament to the casting; we can easily believe they have known each other forever. They’re at ease, perfectly aware what embarrassing confession is coming next. And it’s made clear just how generic their lives are. This is a premise that writer James Lewis has explored before; dead end lives in dead towns, except here they are not fighting to escape. Rather they are content that this is what life is and they don’t expect anything more. As the song goes, “We Live and Die in this town”. ‘Generic’ crops up regularly – even their football tops amusingly have ‘Generic FC’ on them. For anyone brought up in a small town or village it is all easily relatable.
But everything changes when we discover why five became four. Their generic world is blown wide apart. Fractures appear and they must question of how you deal with grief as a twenty-something male who has never had to confront anything so different from the norm before? Suddenly they aren’t the same little gang. Now we witness them as individuals trying to process something that just shouldn’t happen in their world.
What’s beautiful with Proforca’s work is how rooted in reality and relatable it feels. Flashbang is no different. It’s easy to spot similarities with your own life, in your own friends. But as we have come to expect, under David Brady’s deft direction it is all remarkably held together, with a beating heart at its very core.
Another aspect of recent Proforca work is the use of projection. It can add additional layers, but there is perhaps slight overuse here. An emotional shower scene is wonderfully acted out and, if anything, the projection behind showing the shower head with cascading water is unnecessary, even a little distracting from what unfolds on the stage. As the minimal set demonstrates, less can often be more.
With Flashbang, Proforca have created a moving and realistic look at how we deal with grief; how as young men we can struggle to express ourselves or talk openly with even those closest to us. And it’s great to see a play that isn’t saying generic is dull and boring, but rather that there is no such thing; every life is different, we all have our own experiences to draw upon that make life so fulfilling. As emotional as things get, we are left with hope come the end, that life goes on, that life can still be wonderful.
Written by: James Lewis
Directed by: David Brady
Produced by: Proforca Theatre
Movement Direction by: Lucy Glassbrook
Flashbang plays at Lion and Unicorn Theatre until 17 September. Further information and bookings can be found here.