Every one of us lives in fear every day, from the moment we know what being afraid feels like, to the moment when the ultimate fear consumes us. We might not be consciously aware of all our fears, but they are there, programmed into us, subliminally controlling the way we live our lives, the way we react and respond. And then there are the greater fears that we recognise all too well – the phobias and the nightmares and the manias.
Gareth Clark is one half of the performing duo Mr and Mrs Clark (he’s the Mr), but for F.E.A.R, he works alone in what is a solo show written and performed from the very depths of his heart and soul. A result of 12 months of research into both his own and other cultures, F.E.A.R is both an intensely personal work and also terrifyingly relevant to almost everybody who sees it. It speaks to every member of the audience as much as it does on behalf of Gareth Clark.
F.E.A.R came about after Gareth began to question his Western culture and way of life after experiencing that of Ugandan refugees and Islamic mystics. He saw a very different response to life in these cultures, and so turned the spotlight on his own existence and how he operated within British society.
And basically, he concluded that we’re all living under the shadow of fear, failure and inadequacy! F.E.A.R takes the fundamental form of a monologue, told in the round to a small-scale audience whose proximity to the performance fuels the gentle feeling of unease which kicks off the show. Crawling around on all fours behind 4ft high letters spelling FEAR, Gareth wears a rubber crocodile mask which serves to both alienate and unnerve the onlooker, until he takes it off and shows his true self. What the mask represents is anybody’s guess; it isn’t explained. Perhaps it represents the mask we all wear every day, the pretence of fearlessness and ferocity that we project in order to protect ourselves? We bear our teeth with crocodile smiles, always ready to defend, always expecting to have to.
Clark’s monologue serves to demonstrate that Western culture is essentially a huge prison. When we’re young, we’re indoctrinated into being wary of strangers, especially those equipped with sweets or puppies. We’re told that too much telly will hurt our eyes, playing out too late is dangerous… don’t play near water, or near railways lines, or in quarries, or on farms, or near busy roads. Always look both ways when you cross, don’t lean back on your chair, stop chewing that gum, do this homework before bed, go to sleep or Santa won’t come. The rules and regulations we lay upon our children as they grow up make their mark.
As teenagers we’re told smoking will kill us, drinking will kill us, taking drugs will kill us, having unprotected sex will kill us. If we think about sex too much we’ll go blind, if you have under-age sex you’ll be prosecuted, if you get a girl pregnant, your life’s ruined. We’re taught that sex is to be feared.
Religion makes us afraid. We should be afraid of our gods, we’re taught that they are listening and watching us all the time. There is no escape, and we should feel guilty about just being born. We’re all sinners and we must repent if we want to go to a good place after we die.
Clark’s monologue rattles through an average Westerner’s life pointing out all the times fear strikes us. We’re afraid of not having enough money, of not being able to pay our mortgages and losing our homes. We’re afraid of what our work colleagues think of us, say about us, and we’re afraid they’ll find out what we think of them. An innocent walk in the park for a man of a certain age can make you out to be a paedophile. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time might make you out to be homophobic when you’re not. Being openly homosexual at the wrong time might get your head bashed in.
The news makes us afraid, if not terrified. There are people in charge of the world who have the power to destroy it. That’s always been the case, but nowadays it somehow seems more possible. The news injects fear and anxiety into our lives every day. Brexit, Islamic fundamentalists, immigration, pollution, meteorites which narrowly miss Earth. We’re told that if we eat that, we’ll probably die of this, and if we don’t do that, we’ll suffer in the long run. Life is a constant state of fear.
Western society is built on making the individual afraid of not conforming. Clark’s increasingly desperate and frenetic delivery reflects our collective state of mind as we realise that life is basically out to get us. Or so we’re conditioned to believe, in this society. Is that a way to live what life we have?
Clark highlights all of the reasons that he, at least, feels afraid, and in so doing makes the audience consider what makes them afraid. How many times a day do we feel fearful of doing something, going somewhere, opening something, saying something, meeting someone, phoning someone, buying something, eating something, writing something? It’s human nature to feel anxiety – fear is one of the most important emotions, it’s a built-in defence mechanism – but do we really need all of these added social pressures on top?
Clark makes for an endearing, sometimes child-like, at others ferociously adult, performer. He mingles with the audience, but does not embarrass them. You might feel ever so slightly uncomfortable, but then that’s his aim. To make us see how just being in a theatre with a bunch of strangers watching a stranger say a load of strange words can be a fundamentally fearful experience. We’re never safe from fear.
F.E.A.R makes for an hour of stirring, thought-provoking theatre, told with a lightness and an intensity that brings the message home with a bang and leaves you questioning your own way of life. Clark has no answers, no solutions to what we can do to fight the fear. It might be more reassuring if he did, but it’s scarier that he doesn’t. He just casts a spotlight on our way of being, asks us to look and think, and then crawls back behind his own FEAR, wearing his crocodile smile.
Face your fears, don’t hide behind them or from them. And certainly make sure you face this F.E.A.R.
F.E.A.R visits Aberystwyth Arts Centre (Mar 8th), Small World Theatre, Cardigan (Mar 11th), Park and Dare, Treorchy (Mar 16th), Amata, Falmouth (Mar 18th), Riverfront, Newport (Mar 22nd-24th) and Borough Theatre, Abergavenny (Apr 7th).