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Foam | Finborough Theatre

Harry McDonald’s Foam ambitiously examines London’s rising gay scene alongside London’s rising fascism movement of the 1970s and 80s. In Foam, McDonald collides those two (seemingly opposite) worlds, staging Nazi salutes to the backdrop of Diana Ross’s disco hit, Upside Down. However, it is hard to know how to react to Foam as it was unclear what the show was intending to make one feel or think.

Firstly, the elephant in the (toilet) room: Nicky, a skinhead and a Neo-Nazi is at the centre of the show and is consistently dislikeable and even repugnant. Well, he is a Nazi, queer or not. There isn’t really much background into why Nicky decided to join a fascist club in the first place but arguably to include any deep backstory would risk criticism for justifying why someone would want to become a Neo-Nazi, when really…is there ever a valid reason?

While the play doesn’t totally justify Nicky, which is a strength, it is bizarre to understand why (almost) everyone seems to silently adore him. Nicky isn’t particularly charismatic or charming instead he's mostly portrayed as a sex object for the men that encounter him, a tool for them to enact secret fantasies. It is a little confusing to understand Nicky’s power over others as we jump through twenty years of his life.

We see Nicky in the bathroom as an awkward fifteen-year-old, as a rockstar, as a bouncer and even at one point a porn star. Indeed, the long duologue-style scenes make for a bit of a bizarre plot which vaguely centres around Nicky living a ‘double-life’ in a sense, being a person grappling with their sexuality whilst being a Neo-Nazi, but really two things can be true at the same time. You can privately struggle with your homosexuality and be a bad person. Maybe this is the intention of the piece, but again the intention isn’t quite clear.

The set itself is beautifully put together by Nitin Parmar, with the cold nature of the public restroom setting making for intense viewing. There is nothing soft or pretty for audiences to escape to, you just must focus on the stark reality of the characters. Indeed, the acting is very strong with all members of the ensemble holding attention and acting with confidence.

There is an interesting use of silence within the show with direction from Matthew Iliffe, for example, the opening scene leaves audience with bated breath while watching Nicky shave his head, creating a great sense of suspense.

Commendations must go to Jess Tucker Boyd for their direction of the intimacy and fight scenes. The sexual encounters feel genuinely sexually charged while the scenes of violence paint a shocking picture of the brutality of the Neo-Nazis in the 70s and 80s. However, Nicky never repents, he never has that moment when he truly becomes a fully three-dimensional character for the audience, still clinging onto his Dr. Martens up until (literally) his last moment on stage. Unfortunately, this all seems to be a side-effect of writing a play that chooses to focus on such a problematic protagonist.

It is understandable that Harry McDonald felt like Foam was an interesting story to tell, with right-wing extremism always looming in the political landscape, but unfortunately Foam in this current iteration doesn’t seem to totally deliver a message.

Foam is playing at the Finborough Theatre until the 13th of April.  For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Craig Fuller


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