What a piece of work is a man? If this year’s Fringe has been big on binning old binaries—and rightly so—where does that leave the once great white male? Around the world, he’s rallying by torchlight in the state of Virginia. He’s pushing women in front of buses on Putney Bridge. He’s picking up his paycheck at BBC Towers, penning anti-diversity memos to his fellow Google bros, tweeting his way to nuclear armogeddon. What about that guy? Won’t someone think about him?
Argentine duo Luciano Rosso and Alfonso Barón find him—where else?—down the gym in Un Poyo Rojo. This is what you might call Locker Room Dance. Dressed in vests and short shorts, the two men trot through a compendium of male movement. They mime phones and down pints, drop press ups and shadow box. It’s a face-off, a play fight; two skaters swapping tricks. Their dances swing from masc to femme, manly to camp. Dick swinging hip-hop drops to hair-flicking drag; Brazilian capoeira gives way to muscular ballet; Beyoncé to MJ to shake, rattle and roll. Even here there’s a spectrum.
It’s brilliantly witty – like banter in dance. Towel flicking contests twist into bullfights. Suspicion and brickmanship reign supreme, but beneath, there’s a sadness – the silence within. The two of them stop, and slip into sighs. Rosso toys with a cigarette or 10, fashioning a mask for himself out of fags. You sense, if not a death wish, then depression setting in. Live radio provides the soundtrack – from Front Row to club anthems. As they vie for control of the tuning dial, male voices talk Venezuela, then Razorlight kicks in. Barón wants talk radio; Rosso wants bass beats. Serious man versus partyboy who just wants to get fucked.
Out of that comes a tussle that provides the main thrust. Homoeroticism wrestles with homophobia throughout – not prejudice exactly, but fear of what might lurk within. Again and again, the two inch together. Again and again, they push each other away. It’s steamy as hell; sometimes tender, then uptight. It’s as if men are themselves lockers: steely on the outside, secrets within.
Onstage, real men are salesman – from Willy Loman to the sharks of Glengarry Glen Ross. The pair in Different Party, not so much. Gareth Krubb and Dennis Chang—aka Ruck’s Leather Interiors—are the bumbling creations of Kiwi comics Trygve Wakenshaw and Barnie Duncan. One’s squeezed into his blazer. The other’s swamped by his.
It’s a staple situation: the banality of carpet tiles and flip charts juxtaposed with absurd flights of fancy. It’s an expression of the emptiness of nine-to-five life, as sales speak becomes babble and briefcases become pets. Different Party’s best when it commits to that world—there’s a neat running gag about endless cups of coffee—but too often, Wakenshaw and Duncan resort to stock tricks. Good as their animal acts and jelly legs are, they never add up to a theory of man. The Fringe has seen this before and, frankly, seen it done better.
Unemployment’s not the answer, mind – that goes without saying. In Dan Pick’s debut play Jelly Beans a young bloke from Port Glasgow with too much time on his hands wallows in his bedroom, wanking himself silly. Webcams by choice – he likes the authenticity. Young girls with braces. Fannies with flaws.
This is a guy who sees through the fakery of contemporary consumerism, but still buys into it. He knows Pop Tarts are synthetic shite, but they’re still his breakfast of choice. He counts jelly beans in amongst his five a day. And he spots the bullshit of movie men a million miles off: Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, cool as a cuke; Bruce Willis in Die Hard, chiselled as fuck; every suave-ass, wise-cracking, black-tied James Bond. Only the image still soaks into his subconscious. How could it not?
It’s why he feels so wasted, “so full of potential”. It’s why obesity disgusts him when it mobility scoots by. It’s why he snaps in the supermarket and fucks in pub loos. It’s why he keeps all his hurt to himself. Strong and silent, like. Strong and stable.
Adam Harley’s anything but. With his trousers rolled up and his check shirt tucked in, he seems kind of sweet. Goofy even. Less so with his face and clothes coated in blood. His eyes glaze over. Joylessness kicks in.
Pick writes in high definition, zooming in on every sweat gland and semen stain in sight. It takes you right inside his protagonist’s head but (and it’s a big but) to exactly what end? The effect is a cartoon masculinity, Martin Amis stylee, that gets its kicks from the very thing it sets out to condemn.