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Review of F*ckingLifeMate at the Bread and Roses Theatre

F*ckingLifeMateIs one’s life plan pre-ordained? It’s true that for certain people it pretty much seems to be. For example, Prince Charles, will one day be king and his son will follow him and so on. Although as Edward VIII proved, it is possible for even the Royals to get away from their allotted life. So, if the monarchy can carve a new future for themselves, maybe everyone can. Let’s hope that true for the characters in Scott James’ new play F*ckingLifeMate at the Bread and Roses Theatre in Clapham.

Told as a first-person monologue interspersed with acted scenes, F*ckingLifeMate is the story of Kirsty (Kelsey Short) a fifteen-year-old girl growing up on a traditional rough council estate in Thamesmead, South East London. Life is not good for the residents of this estate and the most that the majority of them have to look forward to is repeating the cycle of their parents’ lives – claiming benefits, a council house of their own, a few jars every night at the local pub where all their friends and relatives drink. On this estate, teen pregnancy is fairly common, crime is high, racism is rife and the gays are not welcome. Think of all those highly negative ‘Benefits Britain’ type shows on television and you get the picture of Kirsty’s life options. But she is different, not just from the rest of her family – though not necessarily her older brother Bradley (Nathan Lister) – but even from her friends – militant lesbian Chelsea (Samantha Jacobs), beautiful but not much in there Jorden (Roisin Gardner) and best friend Hayley (Jasmin Gleeson). Whilst they all seem to have accepted their fates. Kirsty wants more. A career, life outside Thamesmead, proper romance, with someone different from the run of the mill estate boys, like a posh boy – well he is from Bexleyheath – Peter (Michael Flanagan). Ultimately, she desperately wants to make something of her life and, just maybe, the arrival of Cassie (Laura Turner), a new girl at school can be the catalyst she needs to escape.

It took me a little while to really get into F*ckingLifeMate. For the first few minutes, I was thinking it was terribly cliched and populated with very stereotypical characters. But, as Kirsty’s story went on, I found myself really drawn in to her tale. Scott James’ writing is deceptively simple on the surface but complex underneath. He has picked up the swaggering mannerisms and vocal style of SE London youngsters beautifully so that very soon,you accept the characters for who they are. And no matter how irritating they are, you can’t help but start to care about Kirsty and her friends and then find you are completely hooked on her tale. You travel with her, experiencing her highs and lows and, if I’m honest, at times learning way too much about certain aspects of her life. As well as good writing, Scott demonstrates real skill as a director using a slightly raised traverse stage with doors at either end and, with the exception of Kelsey, utilising the rest of the cast to play other people in Kirsty’s life. The costumes are simple – black skirts and white blouses for the five main characters – and serve well to emphasise their youth, despite all their attempts to be ‘grown-up’.

As the main character who has to talk directly to the audience and get them to care about her, there is a lot of pressure on Kelsey Short to pull off something spectacular and she really does it in style. Her Kirsty is loud, brash, opinionated, selfish and annoying but with such a fantastic sense of self-awareness and vulnerable youthfulness under the skin that it is impossible not to empathise with her life. At the end of the roughly ninety minutes runtime, part of me was wishing Kirsty well, whilst another part was thinking maybe it was too late for her. Either way, I wanted to know what happened next and for a character that had really irritated me at the start that was one heck of a turnaround. A quick mention as well for Nathan Lister as Kirsty’s brother Bradley, who has his own separate but connected story in the play. Without giving anything away, I’m sure that I will not be the only one that was totally entranced by Nathan’s sensitive and emotional portrayal as he confronted himself and his family, and if it sounded like a stifled sob came from my seat, it was just a cough, honestly.

So, for a show I was having negative thoughts about after the first five minutes, F*ckingLifeMate turned out to be a really well written and performed production. Not only did it have me totally hooked but it also raised a finger to those that are all too ready to write off the sink estate kids they see portrayed on the television as they sip their Pinot in their nice middle-class homes.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

How does the area in which we grow up affect us? If what you see is what you know, does that mark your card from the start. “F*ckingLifeMate” follows Kirsty, a girl growing up in Thamesmead in South East London. Crime rate is high, teenage pregnancy is common and being gay is still not OK.

Kirsty and her friends maneuver their way through this way of life, whilst dealing with their troublesome families and home-lives.

Teenage pregnancy is something that will never cease. Kirsty learns this. What does it mean to be gay in an area like this? She also learns.This dark comedy is outrageous, gritty and thought-provoking, as it makes us ask questions about growing up on the estate, trapped in the welfare system.

From the company who brought a chilling tale of domestic violence in “Between a Man and a Woman” – this new story brings to forefront more social taboos and issues.

CAST
Kelsey Short as Kirsty
Samantha Jacobs as Chelsea
Jasmin Gleeson as Hayley
Roisin Gardner as Jorden
Laura Turner as Cassie
http://www.jamesarts.co.uk

27th February to 10th March
Running time: 90 minutes
https://www.breadandrosestheatre.co.uk/

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