Optic Theatre’s Beautiful Little Fools grapples with the pertinent theme of radicalisation and the manipulation of the media. Despite moments of strong performances and a powerful theme, the lack of nuance causes it to fall short of its full potential.
Making its debut at the Camden Fridge, Beautiful Little Fools explores the experience of 3 young women trapped in an experiment at the hands of an external manipulating force, determined to pit the women against ‘outsiders’. An undeniably evocative topic, the show boasts some moments of strong performance, punctuated with creative use of physicality whilst exploring an interesting (although somewhat unexplained) world. Sadly though, this exploration of a monumentally topical issue loses most of its impact through a lack of subtly in the opening – both in terms of writing and performance – and struggles to regain our emotional captivity as this recovers.
A main aim of Optic Theatre, founded by Jemma Burgess, is to create roles for women ‘without writing a play specifically for women or revising a play and gender swapping the roles’ and that is most certainly achieved. I feel a smart choice was made to explore the theme of radicalisation against the canvas of femininity, as it is a frequently unspoken perspective. However, this is thwarted by the characters remaining predictable and stereotypical throughout the first half which makes the climb to reaching its potential a real slow-burn. Too slow.
Although Beautiful Little Fools initially lacks nuance, with some trite characterisation and clunky dialog continuing throughout the latter half, the characters do create some captivating and emotionally impacting moments. Subject A (writer Jemma) sheds a spectacular tear in her infrequent moments of vulnerability and creates the most hard hitting moment of the show. True to their intention, the actors are successful in illustrating the susceptibility of certain characteristics to radicalisation under controlled circumstances.
The chemistry between the 4 women is also strong, allowing their most vulnerable moments as the play progresses to be most impactful. Although the piece would have benefitted from a touch more subtly and clear direction, the story progresses satisfyingly to an impacting, albeit somewhat predictable, climax.
The performance space aptly reflects the theme: a lonely bed in a sparse room adorned with reminders of the oppressive and observatory nature of their prison (desk lamps, speakers, boxes, rope). The team use movement, music and jarring soundscapes to motivate the piece, and it’s effective – creating a very ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ feel to the piece. The use of authentic soundbites are also effective in contextualising and casting a light onto the fragility of both the US/UK political state and how the government/media can manipulate this to a certain avail. In the case of Beautiful Little Fools: to demonise ‘outsiders’ who enter ‘our’ country having been ‘radicalised’. As I said, although unsubtle, an undeniably important attitude to explore in our current political climate.