For a short week run, View From Here Theatre and playwright Alice Malseed bring Jade City to Vault Festival, a male two-hander that, barring occasionally hard-hitting moments, struggles to hit home.
The promotion promises to explore “male friendship and toxic masculinity”, but the manner of this exploration is largely derivative with the atypical clichés one would expect of a show that purports to look into the male world: we have a boxing ring made of a fragile flexible string of plastic LED lighting and the two characters depicted, Sas (Brendan Quinn) and Monty (Barry Calvert), are adorned in the casual sportswear synonymous with working-class stereotypes. The boxing ring is a tenuous symbol of the aggressive trait of toxic masculinity so poorly deployed because of its flimsy construction and the fact the characters, though living in a city rich with boxing history, never even enter a boxing club.
Essentially, Sas and Barry play a game where they take themselves out of the confines of their working-class life (limited employment opportunity means they are stuck watching Jeremy Kyle, the most unoriginal cliché in the play) by imagining they are Cuban soldiers in the 1950s or living in a pub above New Cross in the 1970s. It is on this journey where we discover that Monty has aggressively sexually abused someone and it is due to Quinn’s sensitive delivery, where the shock of the rape and Sas’s blend of incredulity and disgust at his friend’s brutal actions, that this hits home.
But in a piece that claims to be an insight into toxic masculinity, Monty simply blames the advances of the victim for “leading him on” and then, like George and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf – but far more superficial – they go back to playing their fantasy game where, now, they’re pretending to be seagulls.
As an audience member, it is stunning that such a moment of intense dramatic sensitivity is brushed off, particularly when Sas seems so appalled. It appears the play is trying to say that toxic masculinity is so malignant that it corrupts all sense of male ethics. After all, Sas is happy to go back to mimicking a seagull after he angrily confronts his friend, though, like George, he does eventually tire of the game.
Ultimately, the script does destroy any chance of the issue being sensitively and accurately explored, but it seems the intense scheduling of the festival forces the actors to, essentially, reduce the roles to, predominantly, laddish posturing and strutting and fast-paced delivery, which, in essence, is why Jade City fails to pack the punch the boxing ring staging should afford.
Photo: View From Here
Jade City is at the Cavern from 6th until 10th February. For further information or to book visit the show’s festival page here.
Read more reviews from our Vault Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Vault Festival website here.