Camden Fringe 2023
As audience members take their seats at the Hope Theatre, to see Friction Burn, a black and white silent movie plays on the back wall. Intriguingly, it shows a smartly-dressed man stepping into a bath full of water, where a woman garlands his hair with petals. Since the film plays when the audience is only half-focused on the stage, it feels like a nice-to-see rather than a need-to-see, so there’s a bit of frustration later on, when we learn that it’s a flashback that really required proper attention.
The show opens with another arresting image and another audience not quite paying attention. This time it’s a man standing on a stepladder with his head in a bright red noose, and his girlfriend who only notices him once she’s done a couple of circuits of the room, searching noisily for moisturiser. A row ensues. There has been infidelity, there is unhappiness. One partner wants to be nurtured, the other wants to feel passion. In a sado-masochistic duel they challenge each other to say the things that will hurt the most, and the balance of power swings back and forth.
If David Attenborough were to narrate a disagreement between two primates, it might feel like this. We can see what they’re doing, we can somewhat understand why they’re doing it, but it’s hard to appreciate how it makes them feel. It is as if H and S, the two lovers in Friction Burn, are working through a cynical step-by-step guide to domestic disharmony: emotional blackmail, recrimination, guilt, counter-recrimination, guilt, and so on…. They tell us about their pain, they express it in melodramatic gestures, but they never quite convince us that they’re experiencing it. Described as a ‘dark comedy’, the show’s dialogue is littered with puns about being ‘a bit tied up’ or ‘hanging about’, which don’t quite land comedically, but do have the effect of puncturing any tension. There is definitely room here for comedy, but perhaps it needs to be a little darker.
Lewis Maines and Sophie Faurie, as H and S, are dressed respectively in jeans, gauzy shirt and DMs, and shorts, skimpy top and high-top trainers. They look mismatched, which is perhaps the point. Their names suggest they are ciphers, their distinctive style choices suggest they are not. They also look out of place at home. Are they going out? Are they staying in? Were they running a bath before the row began, or in the middle of making dinner? There is a domestic context here, but it’s frustratingly insubstantial. There are two people here, but they’re frustratingly shallow. As an examination of relationship power play, the row between H and S could have been completely abstracted from setting and character, but instead seems to have one foot in realism and the other somewhere more stylized.
The repetitive nature of the row is underscored by live music from Grace Bown and Edward Corbett. They play a consistent refrain that manages to create a sense of tension and circularity, while being surprisingly easy to enjoy. This effective live music, combined with the show’s striking imagery and witty little film, hint at a sense of style that just requires more conviction, to bring the production and its dialogue fully to life.
Written by: Sophie Faurie
Directed by: Léah Bonaventura
Produced by: Precipice Theatre
Friction Burn has completed its current run at Camden Fringe. It plays at The Space from 21 – 25 November, tickets available here.