Exploring the right-wing radicalisation of young, susceptible men, and the role of social and mainstream media in that process, Beg For Me is a timely piece that asks a number of interesting questions.
As the audience enters, @R3alAm3rican99 is already ensconced in an armchair, watching a Richard Spencer video on his phone. The sound of Spencer’s neo-Nazi, white supremacist spiel which is being drunk in by this alt-right acolyte is chilling, and sets the scene for a powerful piece of theatre.
Unfortunately, this is possibly the most impactful moment of the play. Rhys Anderson gives a compelling and convincing central performance as @R3alAm3rican99, an irredeemable redneck full of bile, however the narrative lacks the bite that is clearly intended. When he is joined by Unknown 1 (Nicholas Alban), it initially appears he has been arrested at the January 6th insurrection and is about to be interrogated. This secondary character feels underdeveloped and functional, serving as a cipher of sorts for those of us who do not subscribe to the alt-right beliefs and agenda. He challenges @R3alAm3rican99 to explain where his extremist views have come from and why they manifested, but many of these questions are repetitive and heavily portentous. @R3alAm3rican99 meanwhile protests briefly, then pretty much spills the answer without much pressure to move the plot along.
Writer and Director Rosa Maria Alexander clearly has a strong idea of the message she wants to convey, and the concept and underlying drivers are both interesting and timely. The choice to focus on the intersection of misogyny and the wider alt-right movement has echoes of Laura Bates’ groundbreaking book Men Who Hate Women, but in a 60-minute play Alexander struggles to really unpick it. There is a feeling of hesitancy in some of the language—it is hard to write such truly offensive dialogue—and that seems to come from the author and not the performers. The staging is awkward at times too, but that is certainly due to the restrictions of the space rather than by choice.
The themes explored here are vital and significant, but the plot is too convoluted and some dialogue too clunky for it to fully achieve its aims. The building blocks are there, however, and with some further development, dramaturgy and clarity of message it has the potential to make really dynamic theatre.
By Deborah Klayman
Beg For Me plays at Underbelly, Edinburgh until 29th August 2022 (not 15th).