Wednesday, 11 February 2009

I Love You, Bro , Feb 11, 2009 ****

I Love You, Bro  
By Adam J.A.Cass, Malthouse Theatre
The Tower, Malthouse Theatre, Feb 11 to 28, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Ash Flanders, in I Love You, Bro, is like a taut wire waiting to snap. He is magnetic as the isolated, disturbed and disturbing 14 year-old English boy who lives and loves through internet chat rooms while downstairs his single mother is beaten by his step-father.

 “Johnny-Boy” (his chat room name) creates an eccentric and profoundly theatrical world in which he inhabits multiple characters including a teenage girl, her vulnerable younger brother, a young thug and two female secret agents.  The extraordinary thing is that Adam Cass’s play is based on a true story that occurred in Manchester in 2003, although the real boy created an even more elaborate and unbelievable web of deception. The story ends in violence, despair and shame.

Flanders peoples the stage with a parade of characters. We watch Johnny-Boy fall in love on line with “Marky-Mark”, a muscular and obviously gullible 16 year-old footballer who lives in the same town. In the chat room, Johnny-Boy role-plays a cute girl called “AlbaJ” (Jessica Alba) and dupes Mark into internet sex with him/her.

The entire story escalates out of control as Johnny-Boy’s lies and fantasies become more and more convoluted to keep Mark interested in “this fag love of two non-fags”. It is astonishing that Mark never questions the crazy story. Maybe teenagers in Manchester are so bored they will believe anything.

The sparse design (Jason Lehane) incorporates projected snatches of cyber-text and dim lighting isolates Johnny in a bleak, otherworldly environment that reflects his fragile mental state. He inhabits anonymous cyberspace where he is only limited by his imagination – and that seems limitless.

Yvonne Virsik’s direction keeps the focus firmly on Flanders and his compelling characterisations. Cass’s play has the inevitability of a Greek tragedy, complete with flawed hero. I Love You Bro is a treat.

By Kate Herbert

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