Instead of cleverly unpicking the concept of manhood against a topical backdrop of sexism in society, Man Up‘s account of what it’s like to be male in the 21st century is little more than a sweaty mess.
Pitched as a ‘silly, fun and light-hearted original comedy about what it means to be a man’, Temper Mental’s Man Up‘s marketing copy promises a ‘journey into the world of Guru Nigel’s All Male retreat for Men…each get a chance to enter their own Man Cave where they must confront their manhood”. In the current socio-political climate, where sexism, masculinity, and ‘manhood’ are constantly in the spotlight, I’d got my hopes up for something ironic, something satirical, and something clever. Man Up unfortunately didn’t come across as clever in the slightest, though. It was stupid, ‘laddy banter’ in its element.
I’d usually comment here on the plot. Man Up didn’t really follow any, to speak of. The show loosely followed the story of a group of men who get forced into attending a ‘retreat’ by one of the fringe group members, in order to reassess their lives in the aftermath of the death of one of their friends. However, the show’s primary content was one mildly sexist, mildly racist (and wholeheartedly stupid) gag after another. I mean, how many blow job and saggy vagina jokes am I supposed to find funny?
I don’t even know whether Man Up was trying to weave clever writing into the offensive nature of its jokes. It certainly failed if that was the attempt. One memorable, and uncomfortable song lyric – “it’s not gay, it’s the milky way” – described an unrequited love affair between two of the male leads; one white and one mixed race. I’m not against jokes that have a controversial nature, but when there is a total lack of context and accompanying social commentary, the gag stops poking fun at the broader picture (that we as a society see gay, inter-racial couples as something to laugh at…and isn’t that ridiculous?) and starts just poking fun at the gay, inter-racial couple itself.
This humour was replicated all over with gay sex jokes for no reason (because hey, being gay and having sex is just a punch line in itself right?), and the fringe member of the group being ostracised for his feminine character and gay behavioural traits is distinctly uncomfortable; primarily because this ostracising never gets resolved. Whilst Man Up tried to acknowledge and poke fun at itself – pointing at the one non-white cast member in a comment about the diversity within the male retreat – it was never woven thoroughly enough into the narrative to put the audience at ease when offensive jokes were being fired off left, right and centre.
To be completely honest, the only reason this review hasn’t dropped to 0 stars is that there were a few glimpses of talent amongst the cast. Some of the guys here have potential (some physical performances and vocal abilities stood out from the rest), but they just need to branch out to plays which don’t seem to have been written by final year university students who’ve smoked too much weed, and to join a more diverse and eclectic theatre company with more nuanced things to say.
Whilst I sat in the audience of the Drayton Arms Theatre, feeling obliged to clap along with an audience full of family, friends and girlfriends that clearly enjoyed themselves and understood the many sexist ‘in jokes’ of Man Up, I couldn’t help but feel like I was back at school – watching the popular lads banter in the playground to impress a giggling group of girls. Temper Mental need to grow up a bit (although if that involves growing into their own definition of ‘men’…maybe that’d be even worse).