Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jun 30 – Jul 25, 2015
Playwright: Brendan Cowell
Director: Jessica Tuckwell
Cast: Cheree Cassidy, Sean Hawkins, Ben O’Toole, Jamie Timony
Image by Marnya Rothe
There are three men in the play, each representing a negative aspect of machismo. One is the narcissist, another is the brute, and the weakling makes the trio. Brendan Cowell’s script is filled with insecurity and angst about modern maleness. Set within an indeterminate but claustrophobic context, Jules, Bob and Guy are aggressive expressions of all that we think is wrong with boys and men in Western societies today. It is a real challenge creating a story with no likable characters, but the author’s own presence is strong in the piece, and his self-effacing approach is an appealing one. Cowell achieves a fine balance between manufacturing objectionable scenarios and dialogue, with a critical undercurrent that gives us the freedom to indulge in the often politically incorrect humour. Despite its coarse demeanour and brash tonalities, Men is deeply poetic, with a strange and tragic beauty accentuated by the hopelessness that it depicts.
Jessica Tuckwell’s direction of the work brings a showy brazenness that entertains for the entirety. Energy levels are pitched very high, but we are always conscious of substance and subtexts lying beneath. There certainly is a good amount of depth to the play, but much as we are invited to analyse these young men’s thoughts and behaviours, there seems an unwillingness to delve into the causes of their plight. Comedy is handled with an impressive restraint that shows sophistication, as well as a well-placed confidence in the script. Haizel, the sole female personality on stage is a predictably enigmatic figure, but Tuckwell resists ascribing her with an archetype and her resultant ambiguity adds interest, if slightly unsettling.
All performances are accomplished for the piece, especially that of Sean Hawkins, who impresses as the boundlessly vain Jules. The writing demands of its players loud and fast delivery, which means that characters can appear mono-dimensional, but Hawkins’ portrayal reveals fragility and bewilderment where least expected, and his ability to inject subtle flashes of irony into a world of conceit, is thoroughly delightful. The level of concentration and clarity that each actor displays for their own part, gives the production its electricity, and despite their despicability, we hang on to their every word and action, always eager for more.
There are some spiritual schools of thought that believe in the importance of knowing what it is that one desires, rather than knowing only what is undesired. The production only shows us the troubling parts of being human, but is hesitant at discussing the alternatives. Regardless, Men is hugely satisfying. Deeply interesting questions are brought up that refuse to be ignored, and the sheer visceral excitement derived from its excellent performances is quite exceptional. Men, can’t live with them, can’t live without them.