A lot of the time, going into an independent theatre show requires a level of expectation-setting. That’s not to say most of it’s bad – it’s just that often, smaller, independent shows require qualifiers. Like, “That was good, considering it’s the first iteration of this show” or “It’s a good show for such a small company.” FAG/STAG and theatre company The Last Great Hunt require no such qualifiers. Walking out of the show, I wasn’t thinking “That’s good independent theatre,” but “That’s great theatre.”
Jimmy (Jeffrey Jay Fowler) and Corgan (Chris Isaacs) are friends, tied together by mutual love of video games (especially Donkey Kong) and a mutual ex-girlfriend. Sure, Jimmy only dated her for a week and is pretty gay now, but Tamara’s wedding is in a month, and they’re both invited. In the meantime, there are breakups, shitty clubs, fights, hookup apps and straight guys to deal with.
The format is straightforward: Jimmy and Corgan offer up a duologue about unfolding events, occasionally using their phones to send texts, or to check Grindr or Tinder. The interplay between the two is delightful, especially as their unreliability as narrators comes into focus as the show goes on. It feels like they’re having a conversation with a friend, and that friend is every person in the audience. Jimmy is the more upbeat of the two and Corgan more down – and Fowler and Isaacs play with that dynamic beautifully. Both of the characters struggle with their sense of self and with their self-esteem in different ways. As Jimmy, Fowler runs the emotional gamut from cheery to blasé to his absolute lowest point: his monologue at that point is heartbreakingly honest. Isaacs as Corgan also seems to excel in those quiet, internal moments of contemplation and despair, but has some big, loud scenes which are difficult but equally truthful.
Dealing with what it means to be single 20-something men in Australia, FAG/STAG is insightful, bittersweet and hilarious at the same time. The writing, also by Fowler and Isaacs, is incisive and achingly honest – it offers snatches of real life up for the audience to laugh at, or otherwise. That honesty extends to the use of hookup apps, queer life, friendship and masculinity in Australian culture, as well as that sense of loneliness and lack of self-worth that a lot of 20-somethings experience, especially when life doesn’t turn out how you expected it to when you were a kid.
FAG/STAG is a gem; if you’re going to see one show at the Melbourne Fringe Festival in 2015, take one hour out of your life to see this one.
FAG/STAG runs at North Melbourne Town Hall’s Fringe Hub (Rehearsal Room) until 3 October. For more information and to buy tickets, head to the Melbourne Fringe Festival website.