The premise of Foam is rather intriguing. Inspired by a true story, it examines the nature of identity and the consequences of right-wing extremist ideology through the protagonist of Nicky (Jake Richards), a homosexual and fervent fascist.

The show is set against the backdrop of London's skinhead and gay scenes in the 1970's and 1980's. Years pass between scenes, but they all take place in the private environment of public restrooms. Nitin Parmar's set design is economical: a cubicle flanked by a sink on the left and a urinal on the right. The wall grout, the dull reflection of the mirrors, the stains on the cistern and the faded scratchings on the underside of the toilet seat all contribute to the grimy environment where unsavoury interactions happen.

Foam, written by Harry McDonald, brims with potential. Unfortunately, the story feels like a superficial exploration of such loaded topics and does not dig deep into its loaded themes. Although the play does get better as time goes on, it starts off on a weak note. Nicky takes an unusually long time to shave his head in a public restroom. It is tricky to tell if he treats it as ritual, or is preoccupied by vanity.

Matthew Baldwin's role as Craig in the final scene is a stark contrast to his appearance in the first scene as Mosley, a well-dressed aristocrat who enters the restroom with a gift for Nicky. It is uncertain why Nicky feels compelled to engage in conversation with a stranger who pauses too much and is continuously cryptic. After all, their dialogue establishes that it is uncommon for strangers to interact in a public restroom. Plus, there is no sexual chemistry between the characters, so any intimacy feels sudden and forced.

Although McDonald has intentionally written numerous silences into the first scene, director Matthew Ilife can afford to tighten this scene even further so as to create a momentum that carries the show to the end. Granted, the play does get better with each scene, but there are several logical gaps within the first fifteen minutes that drags the show a little more than it needs to.

All other production aspects such as sound, lighting and costume do their jobs in establishing the characters and passage of time. The actors do try their best, but this production has not given them enough opportunity to truly shine.

Individual scenes within Foam are filled with naturalistic dialogue that flows smoothly. On the whole, however, the play does not contribute new insight to the discourse, and both crucial topics of fascism and queer representation do not go beyond convenient backdrops for the story.

Fascism is becoming a common topic of exploration in theatre. With the modern audience becoming increasingly desensitised to political extremism and right-wing ideology, even loaded moments like a Nazi salute carry neither weight nor shock value. Similarly, sexual intimacy between men, however taboo within the time period wherein this piece is set, is neither bold nor revolutionary in this day and age.

Regardless, this story, especially the cast, carries a lot of potential and offers a glimpse into a world that needs to acknowledged as society's dangerous underbelly.

This show was reviewed on the 22nd March 2024 at the Finborough Theatre, London where it runs until the 13th April 2024.  Tickets available here: Foam – Finborough Theatre

Review written by Penelope Bao


Photo credit: Craig Fuller

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