Edinburgh Fringe 2018: Masculinity in Theatre

What makes a man? What is masculine? We talk to four theatre makers about masculinity, and how their work questions what it means to be a man

Feature by Amy Taylor | 17 Aug 2018
  • Edinburgh Fringe 2018: Masculinity in Theatre

For Kieran Hurley and Gary McNair, ideas of masculinity form the basis of Square Go. It's a coming-of-age story that follows a 13-year-old called Max, who’s about to have his first fight at the school gates.

“He makes a mistake, and it’s the deep-rooted layers of having to man up that gets him in trouble,” begins McNair. “He can’t try and run away from it. It’s just going to feel like it’s out of the blue, but it’s here now and its massive and he’s just going to have to deal with it.”

The play came out of an earlier work between McNair and Hurley, Man Test, which saw them compete in a series of stereotypically male challenges, from assembling flatpack furniture to Chess Boxing (look it up), in a bid to see who was the “manliest”.

“When we started to work on the Man Test idea we were both quite young and questioning our own relationship to all that stuff,” Hurley explains. “Alongside grappling with our own privilege, we were also interested in how some very shite cultural ideas about masculinity fuck men right up.”

These ideas culminated in Square Go. Not a battle between men, but more of a rite of passage about young men exploring what it means to be a man, without Chess Boxing or IKEA furniture.

“We realised this needed to be about young boys, grappling with this stuff for the first time,” says Hurley. “So, what began as quite an intense and gruelling physical battle, opened out into this quite lovely space of Gary and I sharing our definitive memories from our experiences of school and building this world and these characters out of them.”

Memory and emotion is what lies at the heart of Old Boy, the latest piece from Gla(s)s Performance. The partner show to their earlier work, Hand Me Down – which explored what is passed down through generations of women in the same family – this piece looks at the male relatives of one family.

“It felt important for us to then look at this from a male perspective and so we developed the concept behind Old Boy,” explains Tashi Gore, co-founder of Gla(s)s Performance. “We were interested in looking at emotion and familial love between different generations of men.”

The script explores the bonds between grandfathers and their grandsons and offers an alternative to mainstream depictions of masculinity. Gore hopes that by showing men in another light, it will start to get people thinking about the societal pressures put on men.

“In order to challenge toxic forms of masculinity, we feel it is important to show an alternative. The stories in Old Boy focus on tenderness, vulnerability and how men care for each other. We question ideas of stoicism and how society expects men to behave.”

Like Gla(s)s Performance, Gema Galiana and Anthony Nikolchev of The Useless Room are using the stage to look at issues that surround so-called toxic masculinity in their dance piece, The Last One.

“We are exploring toxic masculinity as a descriptor of selfish greed, hidden as progress, evident in male driven histories from Manifest Destiny to Wall Street.” They explain. “When such values dominate society, it’s hard to see where this competing male behaviour’s influence on all types of people ends and human behaviour beyond patriarchal values begin.”

Society and expectations are under the microscope in Penelope Skinner’s darkly comic play, Angry Alan, a one-man show that explores toxic masculinity and online activism.

Told through the perspective of an unhappy man named Roger, whose girlfriend has recently discovered feminism, the play follows as he stumbles across a blog written by the mysterious Angry Alan that appears to have all the answers that he’s been looking for.

“It’s the kind of play that I hope people will discuss,” says Skinner, who was inspired to write it following Trump’s inauguration in January 2017. “That would be my hope, that it’s not a play that is attempting to give any answers, or even, necessarily, have one point of view. I hope it has lots of points of view. I hope it’s a starting point of opening a can of worms I want people to talk about in the pub after."

But what started as a response to Trump’s inauguration became an exploration of the darker corners of the internet, where Skinner often encountered grim posts but wanted to talk about these people and their views.

“I just feel like this is a story that needs to be told, and it needs to be talked about, and these are characters that need to be put in the spotlight.”

Square Go, Summerhall, 1-26 Aug (not 2, 7, 14 & 21), 8.20pm, £9-17
Old Boy, Scottish Storytelling Centre, 18, 19, 24-26 Aug, 11am, £8-10
The Last OneSummerhall, 17-22 Aug (not 20), 6.30pm, £8-10
Angry Alan, Underbelly Cowgate, 2-26 Aug (not 13), 3.20pm, £9-14