EFR - Reviews of Men

Men

Thu 1st – Mon 26th August 2013

reviews

Ashley Chhibber

at 19:57 on 3rd Aug 2013

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‘Men’ takes a close look at the dark side of love, rarely explicit but nevertheless easy to follow. Frank (Harrison Clark), estranged from his family and unable to escape the abusive Syrus (Tom Rawlinson), is struggling through his writing to find space for himself as an individual. In theory this might be a story about LGBT issues; certainly, were Frank a woman, this would be a very different play. Yet Frank’s sexuality seems incidental, in a story about the human experience, love and loathing (especially of the ‘self-’ variety), more generally.

Clark’s nuanced portrayal of Frank, a character who is naturally overpowered and silenced by those around him, makes full use of facial expressions and masterfully stumbling speech to show a wide range of moods, switching deftly from tense and awkward to excitable and increasingly self-confident. Rawlinson has an easy dominance and disdain which makes his character easy to despise, particularly as his control comes at the expense of the likeable Frank’s vulnerability.

Frank’s sister Bianca (Claudia Jolly), initially warm and welcoming, later furious and herself feeding into the cycle of abuse, provides the family backdrop: she draws out the tensions in the relationship which Frank is otherwise happy to accept. Suze (Letty Thomas) has a contrasting role, always ready to provide Frank with a way out, never herself a threat, but ultimately complicit in the harmful relationship she is happy to witness. The four characters, and indeed the fantastic actors, complement each other very well.

There is an easy and realistic comedy to the piece, found especially in the character of well-meaning-but-awkward Suze, which never feels intrusive or detracted from the drama’s tone and tension. This dark depth was clear throughout, an emotional intensity which ends up as one of the play’s greatest strengths.

One question is never answered satisfactorily: why does Frank love Syrus? The latter gives us no clue: he seems to have no redeeming qualities, and the other characters see right through him. Looking at Frank is more helpful, but still not quite satisfactory, and possibly more should be made of Frank’s internal doubts or his rejection from his family. Ultimately, Frank’s emotional blindness, itself understandable and realistic, needn't be a barrier to the audience.

Writer Miriam Battye deserves full credit for such a powerful, gripping and emotional script; so too the cast which brings it to life, four excellent performances. In ‘Men’, a perfect script and flawless acting combine to produce a performance which is not to be missed.

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Anjali Joseph

at 09:12 on 4th Aug 2013

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From the middlebrow reading materials piled on the floor, to the pretentious wine rack and open box of Dorset cereals, the set design reflected the attention to detail that made Tap Tap Theatre’s 'Men' a truly special performance. This dark comedy was a devastatingly accurate exploration of the emotionally abusive relationship between Syrus (Tom Rawlinson) and Frank (Harrison Clark). Balancing the witty script with the rather heavy subject matter was never going to be an easy task, and it is a credit both to Theo Scholefield’s direction, and the talent of the cast themselves, that this was seemingly achieved with ease.

The initial dialogue between Bianca (Claudia Jolly) and Frank was well-paced and captured the awkwardness of the emotionally fraught encounter, but it felt somewhat mechanical - perhaps the product of over-rehearsal. Initially Bianca seemed almost to be a caricature but, with each subsequent appearance of her character, Jolly relaxed into an exquisitely sassy portrayal and her impeccable timing had the audience roaring with laughter. Rawlinson’s depiction of bully Syrus (and I mean this in the best possible way) created a character so unpleasant it made me shudder. From his swagger to his sneering put-downs, the emotional impact of Syrus and Frank’s final confrontation created a tension that almost made it difficult to breathe. Equally, Clark’s squirmy vulnerability provided the ideal counterpoint to Rawlinson’s manipulative alpha-male assaults. Letty Thomas’s Bridget Jonesesque depiction of Suze provided a lion’s share of this production’s many laughs, creating a character that was heart-warmingly socially inept, but still carried power in the emotionally intense scenes. The one scene which featured all four cast members was beautifully executed, the overlaps in the dialogue flowed naturally and perfectly illuminated the relationships between different pairs of characters as well as the chaos of the situation itself.

This was a genuinely impressive performance, which demonstrated a rare ability to successfully combine comedy with a weighty subject matter. Credit must be given to writer Miriam Battye, and to the cast whose ensemble, as well as individual performances were nuanced enough as to highlight the subtleties of the script.

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