With Fringe expanding to over 500 shows this year various locations have been pressed into service to hold the staggering amount of activity that is going on. One of these is the Frisk Small Bar in Francis Street which was perfect for this witty observation of relationships, how we change and, dare I say it, grow with the passage of time.
My inescapable conclusion at the end of the performance was that a smart, well written script in the hands of (two) talented actors is a recipe for an excellent evening of theatre.
I missed seeing this the first time around last year so was delighted it had another life at Fringe in 2015. The writer in question is Tyler Jacob Jones who had a stellar festival last year with Point & Shoot: a new musical which he co-wrote and starred in winning major awards and successfully touring on the east coast. This was his next script and talking to Jones he felt some pressure to follow-up Point & Shoot’s achievements.
In this he has succeeded admirably even restraining himself by including only one song (we won’t quibble about a burst of Leaving on a Jet Plane) - the Des’ree, um, classic, Life (okay, I confess, my pop sweet spot is more the 80s and I missed the whole ‘piece of toast’ thing!).
That song (which is revisited several times) serves as a shared memory for friends Kate (Ann-Marie Biagioni) and Ruby (Amanda Watson) though what deeper philosophical meanings did Des’ree really mean with those lyrics? I’ll leave that for Kate, Ruby and eminent scholars to decide.
The two friends periodically meet in the same cafe over a span of several years to share the highs and lows of their relationships, travels, and expectations. Kate is the sexually adventurous one while Ruby, who initially appears quite grounded, suffers through a series of relationships some more doomed than others. They talk, spar, bicker and reminisce as only good friends can. Their insights and experiences are funny but have more than a healthy dose of deft observation.
Biagioni and Watson are both excellent, the former’s character all brash and in your face; the latter’s becoming increasingly a bundle of nerves and doubts. In this, coffee plays a major part. As for decaf, well, the title gives you a pretty good idea what Kate thinks about Ruby’s conversion at one point to Pilates, vegetarianism, and a caffeine free lifestyle!
The device that sets this all up is the dinging of a bell by the waiter (Monty Sallur) that announces the end of one scene and the jump forward in time to the next. The intimate setting means the audience is almost on top of the actors with a sense we’re eavesdropping on their conversations. Each vignette reveals more about the two of them and gives both actors the opportunity to add impressive layers to their portrayals.
Most importantly, this is flat out hilarious. The moment Biagioni storms outside the bar and harangues Watson by mobile while stomping up and down Francis Street is priceless. Likewise, the fight they have that ends up leaving the small performance space a mess of coffee beans, salt, plastic cups and every manner of detritus is realistically frantic. If you sit in the first two rows you might even cop some friendly fire.
I loved this sense of play. Biagioni and Watson are totally in sync with each other and the surroundings - even the accidental breaking of a ceramic coffee mug was used to great effect. I give kudos to Frisk for allowing such an exuberant and messy show on their premises and to the actors for embracing that freedom.
There was a moment of magic towards the end that launched this into another level of intensity and possibilities - Ruby becomes aware of the device of the ringing bell. We then witness a bravura explosion of rapid fire scenes as that bell starts dinging overtime! The ensuing sense of timing and flexibility was impressive and had the audience in stitches.
This is the sort of show that is ideal for Fringe – it’s smart, witty, wonderfully performed and written, with a sense of confidence and playfulness that audiences find irresistible, certainly the one I was with on opening night. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Directed by Scott Corbett, Written by Tyler Jacob Jones, and starring Ann-Marie Biagioni, Amanda Watson and Monty Sallur, F**k Decaf has seven more shows from tonight until Sunday 22nd February.