"There's nothing heart-warming about Frank"
by Andy MOSELEY for remotegoat on 31/07/12

The Camden Fringe programme describes Talk to Frank as 'A heart-warming tale of smack-heads, pimps and psychotic medics.' Take away the words 'heart-warming' and you have a pretty accurate description of Steven Barry's play, and therein lies one of its main problems - there is nothing to make you care about any of the characters or what happens to them.

It starts promisingly enough with Frankie in a coma, but aware of what's going on and able to communicate with the audience. His parents are watching over him and there is some good dialogue as they contemplate his condition. Things take an interesting turn as his Doctor arrives and we discover he is keeping Frankie in his coma and has given himself a week to decide whether he lives or die, and the set up is completed with a Nurse who takes an unhealthy interest in the comatose Frankie, and provides one of the best moments of the play as she licks his face in anticipation of greater pleasure to come.

And that's where it starts to go downhill. Father and Mother, for no apparent reason, decide to have sex in front of their son, and while this provides for some comedy that successfully pushes the boundaries of taste, it also marks the point where the play starts to go for easy laughs at the expense of plausibility or character. What follows is a play with far too much going on and no real sense of what it is trying to be.

The cause of Frankie's hospitalisation turns out to be related to Freddie, Frankie's drug dealing friend, who appears to have been dropped in from another play, with an accent and attitude so far removed from Frankie's that you doubt they could even know each other, let alone be childhood mates. Ash, Frankie's ex-hooker girlfriend, adds further elements to the story, and may offer Frankie the chance of salvation, but ends up seeming like just another add-on in an already over-crowded play.

Frank Snr descends into alcoholism and Frankie's mother finds different outlets for her frustrations. The psychotic nurse continues to be interested in Frankie, but mixes this with displays of revulsion which render her character unconvincing, and there is nothing advancing the case for saving or terminating Frankie's life. As a result we are left with the ominously named Dr. Odd continually preaching about drug scum as the central story stalls completely.

Frequent set changes, where Frankie's bed moves from one part of the stage to another, serve no purpose other than to indicate the passage of time, and at no point did I even begin to care about Frankie or feel that he was the 'glue that held this family together' as his father refers to him.

This could have been a good dark comedy if they'd kept it simple, but it fails to deliver on the opening promise and comes across as a collection of undeveloped ideas thrown together with only limited success.

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