I Still Have No Friends

I Still Have No Friends
Adelaide Fringe. Presented by SAYarts. Devised by On The Fringe. Written by Alan Grace. Directed by Claire Glenn. Tandanya Theatre, 253 Grenfell St, Adelaide. 28 Feb - 4 Mar, 2018.

Knowing that this is a show enacted by youth performers, the title might lead you to expect a well-mannered examination/dramatization of teenage loneliness and/or online bullying. What we get instead is a pretty fierce and frightening depiction of human relations that, when faced with the sudden breakdown of society as we know it, descend into the kind of tribalism that signals a very bleak future indeed.

The dark comic tone that this show appears to be striving for is ambitious indeed, and particularly so within the space of under an hour. This manifests itself on stage as a welcome sense of urgency combined with a feeling of ‘anything goes’ freedom, which frequently makes for an exciting ride, both because of and in spite of its moments of outright discomfort. The performing space eventually becomes heavily populated, both with bodies and debris, adding to the aura of claustrophobia and madness…

Given the aim to produce a truthful-seeming evocation of post-apocalyptic conditions, one can certainly grant the creative team a great deal of credit for their integrity in seeing the premise through to its fairly hideous conclusion. Claire Glenn directs with a strong sense of pace, while the ensemble, generally well-cast and impressive, appropriately display a diverse range of personalities and individual strengths/flaws on stage, as they would in any equivalent real-world situation of this type. (Some of the performers will need to be reminded, unfortunately, of the need to raise their volume level when competing with the noise pollution of nearby race-cars.)

Anthony Kelly’s exceptionally sharp lighting and sound designs are invaluable at generating the appropriate levels of tension, as well as facilitating scene changes in a way that both allows the audience to breathe and gets them wondering what could possibly be around the corner. Hallie Stewardson has provided make-up effects that are, at their best, very convincing, while Ruth Fallon deserves mention for the at-times traumatic realism of the fight choreography.

Make no mistake: there are moments when you will likely want to laugh during this show, even if you’re unsure whether it’s OK to do so. This is particularly true upon the introduction of a bizarre character/creature by the name of Rags, seemingly a manifestation of animalism that the human race could devolve into if given the necessary dire conditions in which to do so. The symbolism is appropriate, but the reality of Rags on stage is perilously close to the outright absurdity of ape-man Alph in the notorious 80s Ozploitation cinema ‘classic’ Turkey Shoot. Fortunately, I Still Have No Friends is a piece that certainly can – and does - accommodate elements like these into its rich overall texture.

The type of speculative fiction that Alan Grace has written here would surely bring home to any adventurous theatre-goer just how bad things could get if those in power lost control of the unholy arsenal that each global superpower is sitting on. The picture it paints may not be pretty, but the message is vital, and the experience should exhilarate anyone up for a wild time at the Fringe.

Anthony Vawser

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