It is a topic charged with relevance- what it is to be a man in a society that is nowadays more concerned with feminist voices. The combination of a reputable feminist voice working with an all-male cast is intriguing enough to attract audiences. But Charlotte Vincent doesn’t disappoint, proposing a multitude of socially pressing ideas with a seamless blend of dance and theatre that is executed by a talented cast of performers.
So what is their take on what it means to be a man today? The first proposal is that these men are ready for gender equality, somewhat humble and ashamed at their historical reluctance to face the issue. Vincent frames this collection of males as a mouthpiece for the male sex. There is a sense of awkwardness, as the men admit their guilt to fellow males. Gradually, the men peel off and return solo, in duos or groups to play a different angle on the male species.
The piece progresses to suggest that things sit a lot blurrier than their initially united statement. The play explores the social tensions that exist within the male sex by focusing on the power dynamics between alpha males clinging onto macho dominance and more submissive, softer men. We are left with the impression that this is a representative collective of males, amongst which, the F word, has caused something of a divide. No longer are men the united, pigeon-chested sex when lads get together.
I admired Vincent’s handling of gender fluidity. The contrast of gentler contemporary dancers with the young hip-hop dancers itself seems to suggest an emasculated vision of the male that can channel all types of qualities and behaviours. Furthermore, the exposure of the transgendered character, performed by Jake Evans, is done very tastefully and performed with sensitivity and emotion.
The blend of dance and theatre, of pedestrian and characterised, is truly seamless. Aided by the skill of the performers, they drop in and out of being themselves on stage and play various portraits of men. If I was to be picky, the transition into the repeated circle-dance feels a little clunky, not helped by a rather corny choice of music.
The set – a wall covered with large white paper sheets, and gym benches lining the white floor – reminds me of an educational setting. Especially as they perform in black and white school uniforms. Coupled with the reflexive text delivered by Robert Clark, it seems to remind us that we are all involved in this fight for gender equality.
I think Vincent does a very good job of tastefully capturing where men stand in society, but I’m not sure she proposes anything new on the topic, or indeed whether she had intended to.
Shut Down played at The Place from November 28 to 29 2017.
Photo: Bosie Vincent