“Come Out Fighting” is a striking fusion of classic and contemporary musical renditions from the immortal “Carmen,” woven seamlessly into a powerful narrative that pays homage to the often-overlooked discrimination faced by LGBTQ+ soldiers. The production boasts a formidable quartet of actors who exhibit remarkable maturity in their craft, delivering a compelling and thought-provoking performance, that is a blast of fresh air for this classic opera theme.
Carl: The New Carmen
In the original opera, we follow the beautiful Carmen who steals the hearts of many young men she meets. Meanwhile, in this play, the plot is delivered by a stellar male cast, and Carmen morphs into a carefree, openly queer Carl (Jacob Mellers). Action takes place in the UK-based army, nowadays – the anti-discriminatory laws are already in place, but some army members are still against the LGBTQ+ presence in the organisation (even if they can’t openly voice it out).
Joe: The Struggle Within
At the heart of the story is Joe, the central character, portrayed with remarkable depth by Langley Howard. Joe’s internal struggle, as a closeted man grappling with life-altering decisions (he’s about to get married to his long-term girlfriend), is vividly conveyed through subtle body language and his ever-darting eyes that reveal his inner turmoil.
The “overly macho” persona he adopts to hide his true self only underscores the pressures he faces.
A Raw Portrayal of Military Culture
Joe is a masterfully written character, with a tough and abrasive attitude that occasionally gives way to outbursts of anger and physical aggression. His character mirrors the experiences of many in the army, reflecting the ongoing struggle to openly express emotions (I have some ex-army people in my family and this was at times a scarily accurate portrayal of one of such humans).
Using Joe’s character, the play offers a raw portrayal of the military culture and its challenges in accepting emotional vulnerability.
“Come Out Fighting” exudes an unapologetically masculine and testosterone-driven ambience, a thematic choice that sets the stage for the intense, sometimes aggressive, and always emotionally charged relationship between Joe and Carl.
Joe’s aggression and confusion counterbalance Carl’s vulnerability and uncertainty, creating a complex dynamic that lies at the heart of the plot.
Impressive Opening Scenes and Fight Direction
I have to admit, I found the initial scenes of the show quite enjoyable. The juxtaposition of combat training with Carl’s striptease performance in those opening moments effectively established the contrasting themes of military discipline and Carl’s seemingly carefree spirit. I have to praise the fight direction in the show, done by Keith Wallis – the show features a considerable amount of physicality, including some convincingly intense fight sequences. It was evident that the entire cast had been thoroughly prepared for these moments, ensuring their safety while delivering convincing performances.
While the play provides glimpses into the backstories of the main characters, these revelations are more like gentle brushes than deep dives into their motivations. I missed a bit more occasions to understand the 4 characters, their pasts and their motivations better.
A Multifaceted Theatrical Experience
Carl’s sassy and extroverted nature, coupled with his propensity to keep people at arm’s length with lies, adds layers to his character. The tantalising hints of his traumatising family secret slowly developed and unveiled in the second act – the writing here was well done, without obvious hints or solutions, which exaggerated the reveal.
The supporting cast, Eddie and Luke, portrayed by Luke Harding and Kevin Johnson, put in an impressive performance both on and off the stage. Their roles as a closeted celebrity boxer and his manager required seamless transitions and multiple costume changes into their other roles as Lt. Davies and Sgt. Lamb, which they handled with commendable skill. Their army roles, especially in the second act, brought some relief from the heavy main plot, especially in the car-based scenes.
The play, even though performed in a pub theatre setting, doesn’t shy away from addressing deep and complex themes. It cleverly blends passion, action, and comedy, and even includes a rap number (I did not see that coming!), making it a truly multifaceted experience.
*I received an invite to see the show in exchange for an honest review
Come Out Fighting
by Nick Bamford
Tuesday 17th- Saturday 21st October, Drayton Arms Theatre
Nick Bamford – Writer/Director
Jasmine Cole – Producer
Vicki Cox – Stage Manager
Keith Wallis – Fight Director