The concept of masculinity is something that seems to be confused in 2015. The embarrassment of ‘mansplaining’ and ‘meninists’ make it difficult to talk about the role of a young man and be taken seriously. Add to that the problem of boys being too proud to talk about themselves or their feelings, and it becomes a serious issue. But it is an issue that Frantic Assembly have taken it upon themselves to challenge. And challenge it they do, because in Man Up they have created a funny, impressive and thought-provoking piece.
The performance essentially presents a group of young men of all shapes, sizes, races and creeds, and through physical theatre, monologue, interpretive dance and comedy they take on the idea of ‘manhood’. The show is essentially structured as an anthology of sketches and dances. There is a lot on display here, and the hour rattles by at a tremendous pace. As with most performances like this, not everything lands, but when it does, Man Up really shines.
The most consistently effective sections involve the physical theatre. Expertly choreographed mass brawls between the boys – a literal fight for the spotlight – and group dance segments all weave in and out of each other very naturally. It is here that the talent of Frantic Assembly shines. Each member of the cast shows fantastic physicality, whether they are throwing themselves around, lifting others above their heads, or catching one of their falling cast mates. Audible gasps can be heard from the capacity crowd at certain points, and it is these moments that truly stand out.
It is when other genres are attempted that we see more mixed results. While all the monologues are delivered with commitment and the words clearly come from an honest place, some execution could be better. Add to that the lack of microphones in the large Theatre Arena, and soon parts of the speeches get lost. Lighting, sound and other technical issues are recurrent, which unfortunately makes the piece seem unpolished in parts.
One of the biggest achievements of Man Up is that it is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny throughout. In dealing with a serious subject, Frantic Assembly could have delivered it straight-faced. But instead they present their points with comedy and light-hearted moments. From funny sketches that develop into dance, to some of the better monologues, this humour compliments the more serious moments perfectly. And while I will not give away the joke, one particular line about the discovery of a certain part of the female anatomy nearly blew the roof off.
In Man Up, Frantic Assembly have created that rare thing. They have managed to produce a thoughtful and heartfelt piece about a difficult topic, and make it funny, engaging, and entertaining at the same time. While it was certainly not the polished article at Latitude Festival, the young cast did a wonderful job and produced a top quality piece of work.
Man Up was an exclusive performance for Latitude Festival 2015. To see what Frantic Assembly are up to for the rest of the year, click here. Photo: Frantic Assembly.