2nd Dec 2016
We enter the theatre to the strains of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons' "Walk Like a Man". The falsetto exhortations of a father to his son always struck me as a little ironic as a child (yes, I was a child who got irony) but it is the perfect theme tune for Jon Coleman's exploration of manliness. Jon himself enters the stage clad only in a pair a grey underpants. He begins with an explanation and an apology - he is white, privileged and manly - proud of, and comfortable with, his masculinity and yet, he is not. He is not really sure whether his idea of being a man is correct. The show, he says, will not explain how to be a man. It will not answer the important question. It will explore the ideas of manliness and masculinity, with help from his friends Leo and Manfred (two mannequins) and A Guide to the Art of Manliness (a real book). Jon chooses clothes from a rack and shrugs himself into a red, sparkly dress. Skin-tight, it shows off his assets, though perhaps not quite his manliness. Or does it?
Why should a man have to wear a suit and tie? Can he not be just as manly in a frock? And this is the crux of the show. Through various stories, scenarios and arguments with Leo and Manfred, Jon illustrates the accepted preconceptions of being a man. From the friendly competitive wrestling to forge friendships, to the inability to express feelings and emotions and the disappointment of learning that your father is not the infallible man you thought him to be, via the correct way to execute a man-hug, and bonding over whiskey and shortbread Jon Coleman raises the question of what it is to be a man. He looks at the traditional roles and the dilemma of the modern man.
This is funny, irreverent, surprising, thought provoking and a little confusing. Leo and Manfred are essentially Jon's conscience - they act like a pair of Jiminy Cricketts, questioning his motives, offering alternate points of view, and generally disagreeing with him. He argues, and fights with them. The confusion comes because they both have pretty much the same voice, so it wasn't always obvious which one was speaking (and yes, I know, I said they are mannequins but they areas much part of the action as Jon himself). Jon mixes conversations, with Leo and Manfred, with the audience, alongside recounting stories and enacting scenes. It is a fast paced presentation - there's a lot to get through in an hour including several costume changes and an exercise regime. Jon's style is open and engaging and he has a good rapport with the audience.
I left the theatre to the sound of Four Non Blondes singing "What's Up?", feeling good but with a lot to think about. Possibly not least the reason men have such a hard time knowing what their role is these days is because none of us know how we are meant to be; nothing is clear cut, everything is a contradiction and we will almost certainly say or do the wrong thing to someone at some point in our day, week, month, year, life...
In an ideal world a man could walk down the street in a dress and heels, if he wanted.