Photo by: Temper-Mental Theatre Photo by: Temper-Mental Theatre

Review: Man up at the Drayton Arms Theatre

Written for Everything Theatre

I think it was Kenneth Tynan who once said that the most joyful words in the English language are ’90 minutes straight through’. By that logic, Man Up, with its very modest run time of 50 minutes, should have been one of the most joyous shows I’d ever seen. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

Man Up is the first production by Temper-Mental Theatre. That this is their debut is evident; it seems that the company are still finding their way around this show while they’re performing it. A bit more prep work, then, would not have gone amiss. The plot, as described on the Drayton Arms Theatre website, is roughly as follows: some men try to figure out what it means to be men. You could take that in a lot of different directions, but the Temper-Mental men have chosen to take the route of an ‘all-male male retreat for men’, in which a guru by the name of Nigel leads a group of friends through a series of man caves. This includes locales by the catchy names of ‘the cave of very specific memories’ and ‘the cave of rhythmic honesty’. And yes, all of that is pretty much as baffling as it sounds. There are some vague stabs at character development and many a loose plot thread, but mainly the show seems to rely on humour rather than storyline to entertain its audience. Which would have been fine, if the jokes had been funnier.

A number of other audience members clearly disagreed with me on this, but I found a lot of the humour to be a bit old hat. There were some old physical comedy favourites, such as the ‘I can’t control my own body’, as well as the ‘oh dear, our hands are glued together’. These were certainly executed with a lot of enthusiasm by the cast, but with routines that are so familiar, it would have been good to get a new take or have some sort of twist on them. The scene in the cave of many noises was a highlight in that respect; when one of the men goes into the cave, the other cast members provide the noises, radio play style, that coincide with his movements. It’s a well-executed and surprising scene, and I would have liked to have seen more in the same vein.

Perhaps inevitably given the subject matter, there are plenty of dirty jokes as well. Now, I love some good double entendre as much as the next person, but again, most of the material was rather predictable. Much was made, for example, of the notion of ‘grabbing/discovering/cleaning one’s manhood’ (and, obviously, that of other people). Towards the end of the show, we were also treated to interracial gay love song entitled The Ballad of the Milky Way, in which a white dude sings about how much he loves Milky Way bars because he loves white inside of brown. Yikes.

The Temper-Mentals, who have created this show together, jog, roll and jazz-hands their way across the stage with copious amounts of enthusiasm. It’s one of Man Up’s redeeming features, but also, I suspect part of the problem: they clearly enjoy all the different bits and pieces they’ve created very much, and it seems that very little killing of darlings was involved in the creation process. The result is a show that has too much going on, and not enough time to properly develop most of its ideas.

This show has now finished its run at the Drayton Arms Theatre