By Molly Knox
Sightline Productions’ ‘Rules for Being a Man’ by Alex Oates is a phenomenal and moving introspection of toxic masculinity and male mental health. Fantastic, visceral, and compelling from start to finish, it is packed full of awesome talent; this tear-jerking yet playful performance is a must-see.
This honest and unpredictable play tells the story of three generations of men all dealing with what it means to be a man, before, now, and into the future. It’s so rare to see the subject matter of male suicide and mental health dealt with in such a precise, careful and witty way and is an absolute pleasure to have the opportunity to listen to and watch.
The emotional and thematic range of the cast and script cannot be understated. The touching and raw ways in which this show delivers a clear and urgent message and comes full circle is stunning.
The remotely filmed setting of each character doesn’t feel out of place at all, and in fact aids in the sense that we are being allowed to access these people’s lives in an extremely personal way. We are being allowed into their homes, to learn about the beauty, complexity and struggle which they have faced, do face and will continue to face. Every difficult discussion is tackled head-on in such a genuine fashion and is incredibly difficult to fault in any way. The writing and delivery are all there and sharper than you’d ever expect from a show with such sensitive subject matter.
It’s hard not to be thunderstruck by the power and gut-wrenching talent of Oates’ writing. With poetic twists, turns and excellent running jokes- there isn’t an ounce of dishonesty. The cuts between each of the four characters, as well as the descriptive quality of the text, is beyond sophisticated. Oates, and the entire cast and production team, make it impossible not to feel compelled to check in on male friends and family members as soon as your screen fades to black. Masculinity, love and family are themes treated with care, compassion and humour which call attention to the importance of bringing these issues to the forefront of our minds.
The use of musical elements in this show are both heart-warming and heart-breaking. The direction and editing of every second seem so deliberate, breath-taking and intimate. From the keyboard clicks of the suicide hotline to the inspired and humorous use of an Alexa, and a particularly gorgeous and goose-bump worthy cut between music around half-way through as a son struggles to find the words to confront his father about something personal and difficult; the technical quality is to be highly, highly commended.
The elegance, purpose and heart of the acting is something that makes this show just that bit more special. Tom Cain and Cameron Ashplant convey such thoughtfulness in their portrayals of ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ and clearly highlight the similarities of the struggles men face between generational divides. Both actors have the ability to create a lump in your throat when you least expect it. Miriam Templeman plays ‘Samaritan’ within an inch of her life, conveying such conviction and sincerity to the character that you simply can’t look away as she speaks earnestly about both hobnobs and suicide.
Every single actor adds just the right amount of everything to tie the piece together. They are all such natural actors, fitting the characterisation perfectly and delivering a strong performance all the way through. The character of ‘Man’ (played by Charlie Howe) lists the rules for living up to his gender’s expectations cheekily and superbly.
Howe is undoubtedly an actor with fabulous emotive competence and talent. All four actors bring a brilliant range of fragile and funny, forcing us to listen closely to what they have to say and hang on to their every word and breath of gentle heartbreak. The characterisation of physicality and voice is remarkable, and each performer brings something unique and important to the table. Suffice to say, this show does its themes of mental health, queer identity, and gender justice and that is so valuable to see.
‘Rules for Being a Man’ invites a personal, close to home reaction to the serious and deadly issues of the generational cycles of toxic masculinity. From the bottom of my heart, this is a practically flawless performance with a stark message that should not be missed and will not fail to touch you in some way or another. Incredible.
Image Credit: Sightline Productions