FRINGE REVIEW: How To Be A Man

[First published on Quays News]

ON TUESDAY (26th July), Manchester based theatre maker Jon Coleman graced the venue with his solo show depicting gender identity, patriarchal oppression, and the crisis of masculinity. Quays News entertainment reporter Rae Coppola went along to see what the evening had in store.

The four years in the making performance, directed by Josh Coates and Paper People Theatre, challenged the audience to think about the latter serious issues, and hold the males to account for their inherited privilege and undeniable guilt.

To introduce How to be a Man, Coleman said, “This show will not teach you how to be a man. If that’s what you’re expecting, you shouldn’t. It will fail.”

This captivated the audience from the get go, instantly forcing the cogs in their brains to turn and their confused selves to wonder what they had got themselves into.

It was not going to be a show of contradictory opinions, but instead a well-informed series of storytelling aiming to raise awareness for gender inequality. He admitted his privilege with open arms, but levelled with the audience by explaining that it was thrust upon him, and he has no liberty to change the status quo alone. This set the tone for the rest of the show, and destroyed any thoughts of: What does a white, middle class, straight, western man know about gender identity?

Coleman made great use of the lighting and space, and incorporated Simone Romaniuk’s set design into his story re-enactments to enable the audience to really visualise the scenes. The most striking being about a little girl’s idea, that stemmed discussions about a parallel utopian universe, whereby a man could walk down the street wearing a dress and heels, and it be socially acceptable.

The reflective audience were subjected to some heavy content, but Coleman’s lively delivery, way with words, and inanimate stage companions kept the mood light.

Two dummies, named Manford and Leo, paired with a trusty Dictaphone added comic value to the show by playing devil’s advocate. More silliness was woven through the show in the form of audience participation, numerous non-binary costume changes to demonstrate how gendered dressing is a social construct, and a book titled ‘The Art of Manliness’ that discussed the proper way for men to hug and the situations that deemed them acceptable.

Ending on a more serious note, in common with the subject matter of the show, Coleman sipped whiskey and offered a dramatic, thought provoking monologue, and reiterated that there is more to being a man than being violent and breaking things – although, that was what he did.

Although it was more theoretical than funny, Coleman came across as a likeable, confident man, with an important message to spread. He was talented enough to make the audience listen to what he was saying, something that they may or may not have been educated about before, and related it back to real world scenarios to help them understand the sheer scale of the problem.

The advocate for feminist and queer theory had obviously done his research, and managed to cover the tricky terrain in a tongue-in-cheek manner, gaining the occasional laugh along the way. How to be a Man was a solid effort, and a delight to see someone so passionate about such a serious topic.

Rating: 70%

By Rae Coppola

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