REVIEW! Four Woke Baes by Jonathan Caren @ The Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Directed by Teddy Bergman
Produced by Hidden People and Something for the Weekend
Featuring Lyndsy Fonseca, Michael Braun, Matt Stadelmann, Quincey Dunn-Baker, and Noah Bean
Underbelly Cowgate (Belly Button)
1st – 25th August

With its faux-trendy, twitter friendly title it’s clear that Jonathan Caren’s Four Woke Baes wants to present itself as a funny, incisive examination of modern masculinity, its foibles, contradictions and conflicts. What it is instead is a fairly mundane comedy that embraces tropes and stereotypes of the “battle of the sexes” comedies that more belong in a past two decades gone than they do in 2019.

Dez (Noah Bean) is getting married, an occasion being marked by a bachelor party camping trip in the American wilderness with his three best friends, the bro-ish womaniser Boardman (Quincy Dunn-Baker), the neurotic vegan Sean (Matt Stadelmann), and the nine-year-marriage veteran Andre (Michael Braun). The drama comes when Emma (Lyndsy Fonseca), a provocative and beautiful nu-wave author, turns up, informs them that they are in her campsite, and begrudgingly agrees to share it.

Four Woke Baes (Courtesy of Karla Gowlett) (7) Noah Bean, Michael Braun, Quincey Dunn Baker and Matt Stadelmann.jpg

Photo by Karla Gowlett

Over the course of seventy five minutes, the failings of the four “woke baes” are revealed, and the apparent hollowness of their supposed progressive views laid bare. The problem is that the four baes are never shown to be particularly woke in the first place, giving them no high ground from which to fall, and all of their missteps are straw-mannishly contrived.

Credit must be given to Teddy Bergman’s direction of his cast, who make excellent work of the text. The various chemistries, romantic and bromantic, are believable, and the scenes themselves crackle along at a heady pace. Any ten minute snippet of the production could have easily been a pedestrian excerpt from a far more interesting show, but put all together the text is unable to support the skills of its actors.

Four Woke Baes (Courtesy of Karla Gowlett) (12) Quincey Dunn Baker, Noah Bean, Michael Braun and Matt Stadelmann.jpg

Photo by Karla Gowlett

With almost clockwork regularity every character has a twist, revelation or moment of character assassination that supposedly undercuts them or relationships in some way, I suppose to show the futility of attempting integrity in the modern world. The problem is that these beats never feel earned, so the next fifteen minutes of the play are spent justifying them post hoc, just in time for the next revelation to emerge and begin the cycle again. The show creates a cast of cliches and stereotypes, sets them up to fail, and then attempts to pass off passé cynicism as wisdom when they inevitably do.

But for the title and the occasional reference to Instagram or some other artifice of modern life, this play seems like an unwieldy transplant from the early 2000s, replete with manic pixie dream girl. Furthermore, for a show supposedly about “wokeness” it does an excellent job of objectifying its only female character, both in its centring of her as a sex object, and as a narrative one who exists only to facilitate the emotional journeys of the more fully realised male characters.

Four Woke Baes (Courtesy of Karla Gowlett) (11) Noah Bean and Lyndsy Fonseca.jpg

Photo by Karla Gowlett

In short this is a play about “wokeness” that seems to be written by someone who has heard of the concept but doesn’t actually understand what it is. One can claim satire, or irony, or provocativeness all one wants, but with such hollow lip service paid to its central conceit, such assertions inevitably ring false. The show is overtly heterosexual, white (the one non-white member of the cast was inhabiting the most cliched, American suburban, white picket fence character), and middle class; the very mention of feminism is almost a punch-line and speedily glossed over, where I was expecting earnest declarations of allyship from the baes, perhaps a misapplied “#metoo”.

I was excited by the idea of the show I thought I was seeing when I went into Four Woke Baes, but the truth of the performance did not live up to the promise of its title or its marketing copy. If you are looking for some idle entertainment, and the chance to recognise faces among the cast from American television, then Four Woke Baes is a decent enough way to pass an hour or so at the Fringe. Indeed, sitting in the theatre I was mostly enjoying myself, but with some distance from the show and the chance to reflect on its text and themes, even the excellent individual performances by the cast cannot hide its manifold flaws.

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Previous review: Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein @ Edinburgh Fringe Festival

REVIEW! Mating in Captivity @ The King’s Head Theatre

Flo Taylor Productions associated with We are Kilter
Mating in Captivity
The King’s Head Theatre
30th July- 4th August 

Mating in Captivity is a fast-paced and funny comedy show. Written by New Zealand writer Oliver Page, it is currently at The King’s Head Theatre for the European premiere of the play. The second night of its run saw an excited audience in the house, who proceeded to find themselves in stitches for most of the performance.

Mating in Captivity

Photo credit: Jack Whitney

The play starts off with a bang as Annie and Rob burst into their flat ready for a night of passion on their wedding night. However, what happens next is a surprise for everyone (especially Annie): as she gets ready to prepare the bed, she finds a stark naked man under the covers. As events unfold, it transpires that the man (Jacob) is not a psychopath, as she thought at first, but Rob’s long lost ex-boyfriend. There are several more surprises in store for Annie and the audience as the story develops. 

The play is masterfully directed by Ed Theakston, who insures the action is fast-paced and full of energy. The dialogue is very funny, with some outrageous jokes which had us in the audience gasping. However, it would be great to see some contrast in the play and the characters to expose the gritty reality in the story. The characters (again, especially Annie) are upset and confused at times but these moments still come across as comical. It would be great to see a different and more serious side to the action.

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Photo credit: Jack Whitney

All three actors are brilliant and there is a great relationship between them on stage. Jane Christie plays a confused and witty Annie who is not afraid of saying what she thinks. Annie has a wild side but it would be nice to see more of a sensitive aspect to this character as well. Rowland Stirling plays an anxious and chaotic Rob who is a hilarious and sometimes ridiculous character. He is very charming and you can clearly see why Annie and Jacob like him so much. Finally, there is poor Jacob, played by George Rennie, who is stuck in very awkward circumstances. Jacob is very likable and the audience feels a lot of sympathy for him. He tries to get out of the situation several times but always fails because of his lust for Rob and a hard push from Annie. 

Mating in Captivity is an excellent, outrageous comedy with an outstanding cast. It would be great to see this play developed further as I think it has a lot of potential.

Tickets

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Previous review: Lovers Anonymous @ The Space