MASCULINITY

Elephant in the Room // Lanre Malaolu

Bouncing across the stage of Camden People’s Theatre, Lanre Malaolu uses the physical to reflect the social. His movement on stage mirrors his movement through life, echoing the way his body as a black man in Britain today is seen, read, and considered by others. Taking on stereotypes but looping them, making them strange by heightening and twisting their dynamics, his athletic investment adds weight to what might otherwise be familiar representations. The characters Malaolu embodies are varied, from the inspirational football coach to someone all cocky young swagger. They are each archetypes of identity consistently played out in television, film and the media, from news reports to Channel 4 drama. He differentiates each through a discrete posture (like a slouch in a Nando’s booth), and/or a series of sparse actions (sedately trimming hair in a barbershop). 

Although distinct, within the show these different characters, both the central ‘Michael’ and the unnamed others, could easily also make sense as a single figure – one person rendered in multiple fragments. Malaolu’s shifting shows how the articulate and inspirational speech given to even younger men in a half-time huddle might itself cloak a deep insecurity, always at risk of fracturing under the pressure. Or how the wisdom of an older man might reflect a lifetime of the same pressures he now gives advice on. In doing so it makes plain how the marginalizing operations of society relies on those it puts under pressure to prop up those it will fall on next. 

As much as each set of movements, postures and different voices delineate characters, Malaolu’s performance adds one more. The body of a trained dancer, the way someone moves who has put in the time to learn his technique, is itself an embodiment of a personality. A way to exist in the world, a way to define your own body, from the mastery of steps to the poise of the stance. It controls the gaze of the audience, the way the body is seen, in a way that those young men represented here are usually denied. 

-      Lewis Church

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Lanre Malaolu

Elephant In the Room – Guardian

‘Up My Streets’ Project – MIND

Perceptions of Young Black Men – Independent

MANDEM– Media platform for young men of colour.

100 Black Men of London 

Frantic Assembly // Fatherland

A middle-aged man swings through the air, arms out flung, singing of the joy he gets from taking pride in his son.  

Another man, lit as if by flames, ascends a ladder and belts out a horrific tale of scraping up the remains of a burned man who had been ‘melted up the wall.’

***

Fatherland is a play about fathers. It’s also a play about making a play about fathers. Frantic Assembly - Scott Graham, Karl Hyde and Simon Stephens - went back to their hometowns of (respectively) Corby, Kidderminster and Stockport to gather stories about men and their relationships with their children. These stories appear verbatim in the play, retold by actors. Familiar tales of pubs, football matches and emotional inaccessibility are woven into scenes depicting the creators’ anxieties about the ethics of representation in verbatim theatre: is it democratising or exploitative?

Although men in general are still vastly overrepresented in theatre, it is unusual today to see a production of just men and of course, this is the point – men do not need more representation but masculinity itself needs to be put under the microscope. It was telling to hear how different audience members reacted to this – a young man spoke about how the masculine energy of the show never felt aggressive or threatening. Yet, for any women watching, the times where dozens of men circled the perimeter of the Royal Exchange seating area and banged on windows or shouted loudly out of sight, may have been received differently. Suddenly, extra actors would join the cast and a crowd of men would appear seemingly out of nowhere and burst out again, as though their energy couldn’t be contained, like the swell of a football crowd.

But what can theatre do to expose or challenge gender norms? Attitudes to fatherhood and traditional gender roles have shifted and relaxed in some respects (one character quips ‘I was a single dad before being a single dad was cool’) yet still society still does not allow men to freely express their emotions. Suicide is the biggest cause of death for males under 25 and men are less likely to access psychological therapies than women. The two scenes above exemplify moments where emotions that couldn’t be expressed in real life took flight (literally at times) on stage in song and dance. One song has the refrain ‘we don’t say the word’ – the word being ‘love’ which is left unsaid, hanging in the air. But through the song the silence around expression is itself given a voice.

Scott Graham writes in the programme that your hometown ‘is your father.’ If this is the case, each of the creators has somewhat rejected theirs for the apparently irresistible pull of London. Their hometowns are looked back on with a mixture of nostalgia and disdain, Simon Stephens’ character claiming to ‘forgive’ Stockport – a joke which lands particularly hard in Manchester of course and a Manchester fizzing with energy, pride and international recognition brought by the MIF.

Fatherland ends with a monologue of introspection and responsibility – a young father clasps a flower and tells how he apologised to his young daughter for swearing at her. ‘It’s never okay to do that’ he says. 

- Nathalie Wright

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

The Ethics of Verbatim Theatre

On the Under-Representation of Women in Theatre - Guardian

Fatherhood is Changing - The Conversation

Men Struggle to Express their Emotions- Huffington Post

Statistics on Single Fathers - Guardian

HOW IS UNCLE JOHN? / Creative Garage

HOW IS UNCLE JOHN? / Creative Garage

Abuse often comes shrouded in code. It comes in signs. Physical marks and distress, eyes that won’t meet yours, garbled speech, a sort of radical shrinking. There’s the less obvious, mental iterations. Rapid and sudden introversion, anxiety, depression: another sort of radical diminishing.

JOAN / Milk Presents

JOAN / Milk Presents

In ‘Mind, Modernity and Madness’, Liah Greenfeld writes that “A widely held idea (say, that hell awaits those who eat flesh on Fridays, or that all men are created equal) is no less a reality for people in the community holding the idea than the Atlantic Ocean”. Her bracingly forthright sociological study goes on to dismiss those who “diagnose entire cultures as psychotic...retroactively pronounce medieval saints schizophrenics”. 

THE INTERFERENCE / Pepperdine University (USA)

THE INTERFERENCE / Pepperdine University (USA)

A series of high-profile cases has drawn attention to the idea that a ‘rape culture’ exists in American colleges - a micro-climate where sexually predatory behaviour is both normalised, and enabled by social codes around masculinity. And one, too, where victims are either disbelieved or blamed. Cork-based playwright Lynda Radley’s latest play is a 360 degree view of a female student Karen’s experience of reporting a campus rape, and seeking justice. But unlike most reporting on campus rapes, it takes her perspective, showing the serious mental health impact of her experiences while her college football star rapist Smith emerges unscathed.

5 OUT OF 10 MEN / Deep Diving Ensemble

5 OUT OF 10 MEN / Deep Diving Ensemble

Male suicide is at epidemic proportions, the leading cause of death for men between 20 and 34 in England and Wales, an undiscussed wave of futile waste. Like mental health provisions across the UK, support for young men has been eroded, and the new societies of the 21st century have less use for the strong, silent and stoic men still lionised by those who advocate ‘traditional values’ and roles.

BLUSH / Snuff Box Theatre

BLUSH / Snuff Box Theatre

The raw emotions on display in Blush are the primal responses to those whose lives have been detrimentally affected by pornography. Five candid stories address porn addiction, revenge porn, seeking approval and validation through porn, and as the characters and voices change, it’s apparent they are all defined by exposure to porn.

TWO MAN SHOW / RashDash

TWO MAN SHOW / RashDash

There is a crisis in masculinity. Men can no longer be bearded, belching monsters, retreating to their man-caves at the merest whiff of emotion. Women are in charge now, and men now have to stop solving problems with their fists. They have talk to each other. They have to have feelings, damn it.

DOUBTING THOMAS / Grassmarket Projects

DOUBTING THOMAS / Grassmarket Projects

Doubting Thomas is ostensibly about Glasgow's criminal underworld, but it's also about the consequences of childhood trauma and neglect, and it's about rehabilitation. Written and performed by Thomas McCrudden with support from the cast, it is the true story of his violent past, detailing his time both in and out of prison.

THE ROOSTER AND PARTIAL MEMORY / El-Funoun Palestinian Dance Troupe

THE ROOSTER AND PARTIAL MEMORY / El-Funoun Palestinian Dance Troupe

There is a lot of dick-waving going on in The Rooster, most of it metaphorical, some of it actual. Based on the character of Al-Deek, the Rooster, in traditional Lebanese and Palestinian folk dance, this contemporary piece explores power and chauvinism through the medium of men acting like cocks.