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Monday, 14 December 2015

Theatre Review: Men in the Cities

en in the Cities deals with some tough issues. Framed by the murder of British solider Lee Rigby and the suicide of a gay teenager, it explores various characters that all have life crises in common. It deals with hard-hitting themes such as life in Britain and the nature of masculinity.

The play is a one-man show. Actor Chris Goode delivers a performance that is less monologue, more oral storytelling, he alone provides the interlinking narration to our troubled cast. While I found the narrative difficult to follow at times, Goode’s performance was impressive and for the most part held my attention. Although his acting seemed overdone at times, descending into animalistic chants that went on for a deliberately uncomfortable time.

While the subject matter it presents is certainly worth discussion, I couldn’t help but feel that the play, while genuinely harrowing at times, was just provocative for the sake of it. Using vulgarity to both amuse and shock the audience, the script felt like it was targeting the dinner party demographic, using its belaboured challenging themes as a cheap device to inspire a strong reaction. Given its basis, it is no surprise the play was challenging, but its attempts seem forced and artificial, the issues raised and the script’s lewdness were used like a blunt instrument to beat the audience into a response.

Wendy Hubbard’s direction is much more subdued than Goode’s performance, and the set was simple – dozens of electric fans placed atop skyline-like boxes – but the symbolism of this was certainly lost on me. The fans turned on during a climactic moment, but this added little. The costume seemed simple at first, but only when the characters are all introduced do you realise that the various elements of our narrator’s garb – the smart jacket, hoodie and black nail polish – subtly represent the characteristics of his many disturbed personas. Katharine Williams’s lighting design, along with sound cues provide scene changes, and help guide us through this complex story.

The Brechtian fashion in which Goode confronts the audience with the voyeuristic nature of their spectatorship – one of the characters is a writer, giving us a peak behind the scenes of the writing process, and the audience is directly referred to at times – seems like another ham-fisted attempt to elicit a response.

While Goode gives an undoubtedly impressive performance, Men in the Cites falls short of its high-minded aims, leaving the audience disturbed, but far from enlightened.

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