Menkind by Embrace Theatre is about Barry, Alan and Martin’s journey into deep space on a Starr Intergalactic Tour Capsule. They are on a stag do, and the piece uses this to question the state of man today. Although I’m not sure what the message is exactly, the writing is affecting and the piece well-structured, inventive and surprising in the direction it takes.
The budget airline-style seats, space shuttle vending machine and annoying musak piped in portrays this as a future not so far far away. Making the setting somehow familiar helps us relate to the characters as a group of stags travelling back from their party destination. By trapping them in this setting, and through the intense situation they find themselves in, the piece dissects this group and shows they may not be as they appear.
The play begins with the stags about to start their descent to earth after an 80-minute round the world trip. Tim Fifield’s Barry quickly takes centre stage as an irritating know-it-all, chauvinist, meat-and-two-veg and stuck-in-his-ways type – a recognisable character I’m sure exists in every family. He’s certainly not someone you’d choose to be stuck on a space shuttle with, but as the situation goes from bad to worse and the stags contemplate the fact they might not make it back to Earth alive, Barry’s character is given some lovely depth.
As we learn of the space capsule’s malfunction, and the stags begin to drift further from Earth, they receive contact from their family. In true British fashion Brian underplays the sincerity of their situation, has a petty argument with his bride-to-be and is unable to say “I love you” in front of the others. Barry, however, is the one who asks his wife if she loves him for him and not for his motoring business he constantly brags about. He then breaks down, showing the true emotional depth of his character.
As a result of Barry’s character being so strong, I felt Brian and Alan’s could do with more development. Towards the end Alan has a rather odd monologue, talking in abstractions and I think revealing a plot twist about the cause of their situation – but I can’t be sure. This certainly could use some tightening. Naturalism is counterpointed with more stylised scenes such as a game-show where Brian quizzes Barry on how much of a man he is, and another moment where all three break into a rendition of ‘Rocket Man’, complete with disco ball. These moments seem a little out of place, but I think if the performance of them is developed into something bigger, and even more stylised, they could work.
The company deserve commendation for the use of the space. Setting work in the final frontier can cause issues, but with the edges of the space shuttle taped out and the actors playing only within this area, the atmosphere of claustrophobia is created well. Unfortunately the lighting isn’t as tight as the staging, and there are moments where some characters are performing in half-shadow that don’t seem to be an artistic choice. Overall, however, Menkind is a surprisingly tender piece of work considering what it means to be a man today.
Menkind is playing at the Rialto Theatre as part of Brighton Fringe until 22 May. For more information and tickets see the Brighton Fringe website.