Tasha Saunders’s biting new comedy F*@king Hell is set in an imaginary world (perhaps not all that far from this one) where hapless politicians stage a public referendum about whether or not Britain should leave… Britain. The plight of a country in ‘flux’ is all too familiar, and it is both impressive and alarming that the hour-long show can begin and end without anyone ever explaining what on earth is going on, or what ‘Breparture’ actually means. It turns out that even the politicians – especially the politicians – don’t have a clue.
The play opens with an infuriatingly useless and deeply funny speech by the ‘Prime Minister’ (Daniel Ergas), but chaos really descends as the plays moves to the Westminster offices where decisions are made, and alliances are formed and broken. F*@king Hell embraces its role as farce. Political planning takes place around a table built of giant alphabet blocks, and the infantile behaviour of ‘Bart Bonson’, as he entices voters with promises of free socks and unlimited bananas, are all too familiar. The political parallels to reality in Saunders’s script range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Highlights include a political rally disrupted by a gorilla, memorable egg-throwing, and the unveiling of a ‘campaign cart’. Comedy is supported and heightened throughout by clever soundtrack choices. A special mention must also go to the scene-stealing performance of Ergas’s PM, eating Oreos on the floor of the office, as Westminster power play quite literally goes on over his head. Having said that, the acting work of the cast as a whole was extremely strong. Each of the six members could claim to have got the biggest laugh of the night, and there were also moments of poignancy, particularly in the relationship between Mick (Alexander Grassam-Rowe) and Terry (Pip Lang).
‘F*@king Hell’ is at its strongest when it is directly satirising political events that the audience are familiar with. An intimate rapport is established that allows us to be party to in-jokes, between actors and spectators who have all experienced ‘Breparture’’s real life counterpart. Particularly unnerving is Bart (Luke Richardson)’s transformation from a hapless political fall guy to an increasingly ambitious and ruthless campaign leader. Nevertheless, as Bart proceeded to become a murderous and maniacal supervillain, the comedy did slightly begin to lose its snappiness. The jarring transition from farce to tragedy was achieved, but events like the arrival of two comedy policemen prevented the third act of the play from becoming truly sinister. Bart’s monstrous transformation meant that we lost his human side, and the funniest parts of the play are when the audience see the ‘real people’ behind political madness – even when those people are hidden by a gorilla mask! Unexpected comedy in the Epilogue, and the deeply satisfying enactment of theatrical retribution meant that the production ended on a high note. The audience, however, is left wondering what will happen in the real-world, where reaching a moral conclusion is rarely so straightforward.
Having skipped the ITV Election debate in order to watch F*@king Hell, I didn’t know whether I had altered my evening by simply swapping one bleak political landscape for another. But Saunders’s witty satire and the work of an energised ensemble cast manage to make Brexit the most interesting it has been for years.