Sincere insincerity and statistics that lie capture the teenage experience. We review the show in Dublin before its run at the Belfast Festival at Queen's
Sitting on a bus a few days before seeing FML, I saw a poster for the play. On first glance I thought it was a poster for a film, and I thought to myself, 'That’s pretty cool: designing the poster as a movie one-sheet.' It was only when I saw the play itself that I realised how much sense it actually made.
Throughout the entire 85 minute play a giant projector screen acts as a backgrop, illuminating, explaining and occasionally distorting the stories that director Pol Heyvaert wants to get across - the stories of modern youth.
Onstage 16 teenagers sit in two rows of seats. The space upstage is broken up by five microphones, through which the teenagers tell their stories. We are the audience that they wish to perform for, to blame, to plead with, to pick fights with and occasionally to threaten - in other words we are society, and we have a lot to answer for.
After a mystifying prologue a character hits us with a barrage of statistics, only to throw in, about halfway through, that '95% of statistics are made up'. This dichotomy informs and explains the play as a whole. It’s an issues play that teases you into thinking that it isn’t.
Relatively early on there is a tender moment between the characters Jamie and Callum, which slowly progresses into high melodrama. A guy behind me cackles throughout most of this scene, as he realises before most, including myself, the movie to which they were alluding.
These cultural references abound. At times it seems that the teenagers’ emotions can only be validated through pop culture references (most notably via Lady Gaga, and feeling like a 'freak' whilst listening to her music) and by appearing on the screen itself, in sometimes painfully close close-ups.
Like the internet phrase that spawned the play (FML: F*ck My Life) the idea is that no matter how painful the memory or the experience is, it’s only validated as long as someone is watching. And someone is always watching. The question the play poses, however, is whether anyone is actually listening.
Despite the serious questions at the heart of FML, there are a wealth of amusing moments scattered throughout. As we learn when Hayveart tackles issues of mental health, the comedy can very quickly turn to tragedy. This happens during my two favourite moments of the play.
The first involves a character who goes to the microphone to tell her story only to find that nothing will come out. Instead she is supplied with increasingly bizarre and vulgar answers by another member of the cast. It starts off as comedy, but gradually unveils itself as an example of a particularly bad case of bullying. It is utterly chilling.
The second scene involves a montage of internet 'funnies'. It's the kind of thing you would see on Saturday afternoon clip shows, where babies fall over and dogs do the funniest things. The genius of FML is that the conceit is pushed past the funny stage and paired with the naked honesty of Aimee Mann’s emotive track 'Wise Up'.
At it’s heart though, FML is about what happens in between these entertaining, if disturbing, set pieces. It's about the moments when the teenagers are simply talking, with themselves or with each other. These are the moments that matter, when the reality of teenage angst is revealed.
As one of the characters says, 'A parent only spends 17.5 minutes a week in meaningful conversation with their child'. If we don’t listen, FML suggests, we may live to regret it.
At one point a song is sung. The character acknowledges that he doesn’t have the best voice. It doesn’t matter. He quotes Beckett’s famous quote, 'Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.' He mightn’t be winning yet, but what matters is that he’s doing it, and failing better every single day.
FML runs in the Waterfront Theatre from the 15th – 17th October as part of the Belfast Festival.