Man-Cub is an episodic play taking the themes of the Jungle Book and exploring them; the sense of exclusion and belonging, freedom and possibility. Man-Cub gives Alistair Wilkinson his directorial debut and with his assistant director Rachel Moore and the cast they devised the piece together, created from real life experiences. Being mostly movement based with small sections of text it signals to the original Rudyard Kipling novel and gives some references to the Disney version including a stunning blues version of ‘I Wanna Be Like You’ with beautiful vocals from Andy McCredie, harmonised gorgeously by Rachel Moore. It is disappointing the piano and McCredie’s musical talents are not utilised more throughout the piece.
The beginning of the performance, although bursting with energy, seems to lack pace. Some scenes set in a night club are a little too long however a lovely moment emerges between Callum Tilling and Alex Britt. Tilling performs a beautiful exploration of a lover’s body; half dance, half mating ritual. It feels very animal like but not animalistic; a moving portrayal of a first encounter of a loving embrace.
Throughout the small vignettes of different characters stories within and around the club comes an extremely distressing scene where Lizzie Manwaring plays out a sexual attack. Turning from a fun and flirty scene to a horrific crime. Manwaring takes the stage to herself while Drew Sheridan-Wheeler produces a perverted, spine-chilling, disembodied voice-over from another part of the stage out of view. Physically impressive and emotionally disturbing, Manwaring proceeds to contort her body and push herself into the wall in such a way that you can almost see the invisible attacker performing his shocking act.
We are thrown back to ‘The Jungle Book’ in another scene as you can almost envisage Kaa the snake with its big green eyes tempting Mowgli. Louise Waller, clad in green leggings, becomes the snake who along with McCredie perform impressive lifts and holds, really giving the sense of the snake hanging from the trees drawing the young boy in. This scene is also evocative of the Garden of Eden with dancers writhing around in pleasure and in pain. Some of this dancing becomes quite distracting and it would have been more effective to allow the audience to focus just on the scene at hand.
Overall some scenes could have been cut shorter and stripped back (the dancing in club scenes in particular became a little monotonous) as events take too long to happen. Some scenes, on the other hand, are very watchable while a few of the vignettes feel a little self-indulgent and seem to lack focus in their themes. However, pace and tightness of scenes will come as Wilkinson gains more experience as there is a lot of potential in Man-Cub.
The moment of the night has to be given to Alex Britt for his beautiful monologue at the close of the piece. A stripped back, truthful telling of his first time in a gay club, a church for gay people, as he calls it. His vulnerability and openness while performing solo is beautiful to behold. I’m glad it was the end of the play as it would have been hard to stop myself from clapping.
Man-Cub played at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden until July 15.