Fog, Finborough Theatre, London

 

The soldier who returns to find that he's a stranger in the country he fought for is a familiar figure in drama (one thinks of Simon Stephens' recent Motortown), as is the absconding father who is finally forced to confront the consequences of his neglect.

They merge now in the character of Cannon (tough, muscular Victor Gardener), a man who put his young children into care after the death of his wife and rejoined the army.

In the powerful new play Fog, this ex-army sergeant re-enters their lives ten years later bristling with good intentions. But he discovers that the damage inflicted on his son and daughter by the so-called “care” system and by his abandonment of them cuts too deep and that a squalid council flat and the meagre 12K he could earn as a security guard do not furnish the most propitious circumstances in which to reassemble a family.

Trying to hide his neediness beneath a veneer of street cred and the strenuous adoption of black patois, Cannon's 17 year old son, nicknamed Fog, is beautifully performed by Toby Wharton (born 1984) who co-authored the play with Tash Fairbanks (born 1948). In a wry introduction, he reveals that Fairbanks was the partner of his lesbian mother – not a scenario he greatly appreciated when he was an aspiring teenage grime MC. It's good that the pair eventually warmed to one another because theirs seems to be a collaboration made in the vicinity of heaven.

Fog may be a bit conventional in terms of plot, but the dialogue continually bubbles with unpredictable comic life. And the situations expertly manage to be agonising and funny at the same time, as Fog's pathetic pretence of being cool “black” is ironically contradicted by the black characters – his friend Michael (lovely Benjamin Cawley) who is now studying for university and Michael's amusingly gabby sister Bernice (Kanga Tanikye-Buah) who is in line for promotion. A salutary corrective to the post-riots musings of David Starkey.

On a set where the comfortlessness of the council flat is expressed as fold of bleak, untreated concrete, Che Walker's cleverly heightened production jangles your nerves and twists your heart at the macho Cannon's doomed struggle to find common ground with his son or the estranged daughter with a carapace of “attitude”, Lou (Anne Hemingway) who lets him know exactly what “care” did for her sexual education. I hope to see and hear a lot more from author/actor Toby Wharton.

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