I’m not sure how to explain The Fun Club Presents… Three performers – Sara Page, Franny Anne Rafferty and Alistair McPhail – in a room, all in animal face-paint, talk obliquely about themselves. It’s a cross between a GCSE drama lesson and a group therapy exercise. It’s about how to make an audience feel a connection with the person onstage and they have struck gold with a fascinating concept. The delivery of the concept, however, is underwhelming.
There is a diamond hidden beneath (quite a lot of) rough here.
The words ‘meta’ and ‘wanky’ come up almost immediately in a self-aware tone, as if this vaccinates the show against these afflictions. It doesn’t, I’m afraid. The tone throughout is an uncomfortable combination of casual chumminess and of self-proclaimed ‘wankiness’ (the phrase ‘this isn’t original’ is repeated like a philosophical mantra), of half-hearted humour and sudden sadness. Humorous lines were often delivered with little energy or conviction, as if the cast themselves weren’t confident in their jokes. (I should commend Alistair McPhail though, whose delivery is particularly engaging.) I wondered whether I was the only audience member who wasn’t a friend of the actors, and felt a little alienated rather than enthusiastic when encouraged to cheer because it was one of the characters’ birthdays, or when another character was cajoled into trying stand-up comedy. I’m also unsure why they choose to do a dance at the end; it gives a nice warmth to the ending, but there could have been something to warrant it.
Push aside the mess, however, and there is some great core material. I’ve no idea how many of the stories and insecurities shared in the show are autobiographical, but these are what breathe life into it and made me respect the company. There are vivid stories about sleeping on the stairwell when locked out of your flat, about being mugged, about accidentally hugging strangers and about having your heart broken. They have wonderful sensory images and emotional force. When telling these stories, the actors show their real ability. These stories need to be lifted out, rubbed off and put in a more polished show.
The Fun Club Presents… has such an earnest vulnerability that to give it a poor review feels like a cowardly attack. There is a diamond hidden beneath (quite a lot of) rough here. But for most of the performance I felt like I’d been taken to a party where I didn’t know anyone, and after twenty minutes of listening to three people I’d never met cracking in-jokes, opening up and trying to philosophise, I felt awkward and wanted to leave.