Fringe-first award winner Joe Sellman-Leava (Labels, Monster) is back at the Fringe with his new work Fanboy in which he explores his relationship with his past and future self. It’s a fascinating piece that is full of surprises and which he describes as a ‘love-hate letter to pop culture and nostalgia’.
An emotionally charged, joyful yet heart-rending piece of theatre
He starts with an introduction to the fanboy species in the well-captured voice of David Attenborough, the first of several famous people who will emerge during the course of the play. The specimen in front of us is Joe and while Sellman-Leava doesn’t look as nerdy as some of that ilk, he has many of the essential elements. In his teens he tried to hide his disposition. In his twenties he assures us he owned it, but the issue is that he’s never grown out of it. Hence in his thirties he is still obsessed with Nintendo, Star Wars and A Muppets Christmas Carol.
In the loneliness of his childhood bedroom he begins to sort through some old stuff and finds a dusty video tape. To his surprise it reveals his days as a young boy and he begins to interact with it. This begins one of the most brilliantly synchronised performances between an actor and technology that requires impeccable timing, co-ordination and cuing. Technical Designer Dylan Howells achieves this and Joe engages in conversation with him on the sound and lighting deck at the back of the room, speaks with his younger self and also shares his story with us in direct address. We discover the excitement and disappointments of his friendship with Wayne, his relationship with Gaya and uncle Obe. In a twist to reality, Trump and Farage impinge on his life and he has to face the rise of ideologies he cannot espouse and the realisation that fandom applies as much to the living as the imagined. Super heroes exist out there in political arenas but they are not for him.
This is a very personal show, but it never becomes indulgent. There is openness in his divulgences that are told with honesty and much humour. The script has literary qualities with penetrating metaphors that provide depth of meaning and insights. Beneath the surface lurk issues of obsession and escapism, loneliness and mental health. It’s a penetrating overview of life, looking back at what we were, coming to terms with what we are; wondering what we might be. And what if we had done things differently? Can we remain in the safety of childhood memories, hiding from the world, or must we move on and face a new reality? Does a time come when pop-culture and fandom is no longer sufficient to deal with the emotional trials of adulthood and relationships.
As always, Sellman-Leava shines as the hero of this piece, but perhaps more than ever this work reflects the imaginative contribution of others: Director Yaz Al-Shaater, whose film experience is clearly evident, Dramaturg Lauren Mooney and lets say it again for Howells; the team that has made this innovative, multi-disciplinary show.
But don’t think it’s all about technology. This is an emotionally charged, joyful yet heart-rending piece of theatre. Take your tissues if you are as vulnerable as I found myself to be.