A pub theatre is the perfect venue for this intimately scaled work by Proforça Theatre Company. James Lewis’ luminous script is an affable, affectionate ode to lad hood and the working class.

The four leads, Ryan, Jason, Andy and Deano, are not the aggressive, tribal louts of alarmist cliche. Rather, they are guardedly sensitive souls trying their best to figure out their role within the world. Their clever “Generic FC” tops grant them Everyman status. Flashbang is structured as a confessional, with the cast speaking directly to the audience. Occasionally, they may even pull up a chair and casually sit amongst them. On a screen behind them, a fifth member of their “gang” stares out, unacknowledged. An air of disquiet floats between the boys as they work their way towards addressing the absence. Effectively chastised by a disapproving teacher, they now refer to themselves as a squad.

The lads may hail from a town where nothing much happens and lives run a fairly circumscribed course, but this is not a matter for condescension. Lewis elevates the virtues and rewards of ordinary lives without resorting to false romanticism. “Work. Pub. Sleep. Repeat,” as Ryan observes. He and his mates live the mantra with happy abandon and hearty brio. The actors achieve an easy, rambunctious energy as they recount their escapades. With humour coursing through the conversation.

The quartet of actors are superb in communicating an organic sense of history between the lads. There is not a weak link amongst them. The detail work is impressive, each character is given quirks and attributes that clearly define and identify them. They have not been merely assigned but have been integrated comprehensively. Sam Kacher, Emmanuel Olusanya, Henry Brackenridge and Fred Wardale deserve high praise for superlative ensemble work. Director David Brady coaxes full-bodied, well-modulated performances from all and wrings tremendously unforced emotional content from the material.

An extraordinary event, the “flashbang” of the title, precipitates a major shift in the latter half of the play, setting the boys adrift in disorienting trauma. The sudden way in which it is presented allows the audience to immediately feel the tragic shock and sickening sense of helplessness. In a moment, time suspends and coiled catastrophe waits to spring from the other side of it. The limits of emotional forbearance are tested and found wanting. In a moving series of monologues, each of the main characters is allowed a moment to bare his soul. Vulnerability is on raw display. The boys enter into a particular male covenant of support and tenderness. In one very poignant passage, a father holds his despairing son who has collapsed in the shower. He commiserates using few words and mostly silence. It is a locked moment, not to be shared with the outside.

One of the great strengths of the script is in suggesting change need not be seismic to matter, nor success measured in huge strides. One doesn’t have to escape a small town to achieve a real life. Even as some of the closing dialogue skirts sentimentality, the actors’ truth and honesty pulls it back from the brink. The boys make their peace with the arbitrary and celebrate their friendship and brotherhood. And it is easy to believe that the ties that bind will remain firmly in place through all that is to come. Humanity is affirmed.

Rating: 5 out of 5.
FlashbangLion and Unicorn TheatreUntil 17th September

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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