FRINGE REVIEW: FRONT is a Story of Sex & Dudes & Rock & Roll
Walking into Rehearsal Room 1 at the State Theatre Centre to see FRONT feels like walking in on a band practice. They’re playing, drumming, shouting, swearing and generally rocking out. The atmosphere is exciting and electric, partly inspired by writer/director Michael Abercromby’s time managing a live music pub.
FRONT’s tale unfolds in a fairly conventional theatrical style as we witness the band’s (Rough Cut Punt) rise to fame and all the conflicts, moral corruption and power plays that go along with it, followed by a steep and rapid descent from the top of the game. The characters, known simply by their function in the band (‘Vocals’, ‘Drums’, ‘Guitar’ and ‘Bass’), fight over the complexities of fame: do they take the record deal? Do they compromise their artistic vision for the powerful record label producer?
The plot progresses like any other predictable, rags-to-riches or dudes-get-famous story, however. None of the character’s storylines or personalities seem to surpass the narrow stereotypes they’re based upon. There are moments, such as the monologues that each band member delivers, that hint at what this show could be: a complex look at what each of these men are experiencing internally and hiding in order to make it in a tough industry; an examination into the motives that drive people to make decisions for fame or power and how these interact with the many, many versions of masculinity that exist. But it doesn’t eventuate. So we’re just left with some dudes taking their shirts off and being sad because they haven’t been laid while ignoring that their fame and privilege is only possible because women, queer people and people of colour are constantly ignored, underrepresented or harassed in the music industry [1.]. There are a few compelling moments when the characters question their situation and the power dynamics at play, but FRONT ultimately misses the opportunity to critically engage with questions of masculinity, something which could have elevated the show.
FRONT also does not engage with the issue of female representation in the industry. There are several female characters including the band’s manager, played with commitment by Mikayla Merks. Mary Soudi delivers powerful performances as a myriad of characters: the radio host, the fierce (almost evil) record label boss and the new bassist. But their storylines revolve only around the men, and they don’t have their own journeys. And, to be fair, most film and tv and much theatre do this, and get away with it. But, watching this show, I found myself questioning: how long do we have to be content with playing the ‘Mum/manager’ or ‘Madonna/whore’ archetype?
Obviously, this is a much larger problem than any one Fringe show (or review) can solve. But I think it is a question that’s definitely worth asking of ourselves as makers of theatre, audience members and people. It’s also one that could have made FRONT feel like a more well-rounded and engaging piece of theatre.
Despite its flaws, the performers in this show do have a really interesting collaborative energy - they feel like a real ensemble, supporting each other’s performances well. Isaac Diamond delivers a powerful and nuanced performance as the band’s conflicted front man while Adam Marks provides some good comic relief as the constantly stoned/drunk but talented guitarist. The set is simple but effectively transforms into whatever space the performers require and the live music is entertaining and helps to keep the energy up. Ultimately, FRONT succeeds at showcasing talented young actors in a great venue and I look forward to seeing what's next for these performers.
3.5 Stars out of 5
FRONT runs until the 26th Jan at the State Theatre Centre. Get your tickets here.
[1.] A counterpoint to this, if you want to read it, is Birdland by British playwright Simon Stephens.
Editor’s note: the original version of this article claimed that FRONT did not pass the Bechdel test. This claim was subsequently determined to be inaccurate and has therefore been removed.