Masculinity is an odd concept. After all, if someone is described as masculine that is a compliment isn’t it? Well, as with so many things in life, it’s all about the context. For some, masculinity is a badge of honour, for some it’s a stereotype and for others, it’s an extremely negative view of a certain type of man. To get an example of two of these types pop along to The London Theatre, New Cross to see Beefcake.
The show itself consists of two highly individual monologues that look at masculinity from very different viewpoints. The first is The Cake, written and performed by Luke Rollason, a Bouffon Clown and the proverbial ‘nice guy’ who just wanted to meet and date a woman. To this end, he has been listening to self-help CDs which guarantee a man that women will fall for them if they obey the rules set by the seller of the help. In his desperation, the character even turns to Dapper Laughs – someone I had never heard of previously and who, having watched some of his YouTube clips this morning, I really wish I still was unaware of. The writing is very interesting as, although Luke’s character is a ‘nice’ guy, he has fallen into the trap of believing that all women are the same and can be manipulated to fall for someone by following a set of simple rules. It is fascinating that all the rules the character listens to are set by men – many of whom I suspect are very sad and lonely in real life – and assume women are a commodity sitting on a supermarket shelf waiting to be selected and taken by a man. The thought that there really are men that think this way is disconcerting, to say the least, but having seen Dapper Laughs, I’m afraid it really is the truth. However, this is not a stern, lecturing performance on the evil of men. In fact, there is a lot of dark humour throughout the show, which brings home some rather unsettling points in a non-hectoring and entertaining way. Luke’s performance is pretty impressive, in a very bizarre way, and without any spoilers, I will say that there is some audience interaction, much of which seems to be ad libbed as Luke responds to the answers to his questions, and if you are very lucky (as I was) you may even get more involved than you expected to, but worry not, Luke is a perfect gentleman.
The second half of Beefcake couldn’t have been more different from The Cake. In The Beef by Alex Wood, the audience is transported to the world of corporate speak and glib sales presentations as Tom Greaves – looking every inch the successful salesman with shiny shoes, black trousers, and white turtleneck – takes his audience on a journey from his early days, where, on his father’s knee he learns the one rule – ‘Exploit Every Weakness’ – that sees him through his highly successful career as a bigwig in the city, and onto his perfect life in his perfect home with his perfect wife and children. Unfortunately, his life was ripped apart when the apocalypse happened but our man wasn’t downhearted for too long. He quickly realised that even when the world has turned to rubble, men still have certain primeval urges and he had the wherewithal to satisfy those urges and make himself a tasty profit at the same time. The writng of The Beef is quite fascinating. I have been to meetings where a successful salesman has stood there, dominating the stage and telling the enthralled audience why he/she was so good and how they got to where they are today, and this was a perfect example of such a presentation. Tom moved around the stage with the perfect split of arrogance and charm to ensure the audience stayed with him, Even though it was obvious the type of person he was. There was a wonderful moment early on when the character said so much about himself by describing his family with his perfect wife, his boy, and then he paused before adding, almost as an afterthought, and a girl. A lovely bit of writing and acting there.
It is unusual to see two shows approaching a very similar theme in such a different way but that dichotomy really worked well. Each performance was complete in itself but the two together were a powerful and rather sad indictment of a society where there is still a rather negative perception of one gender by the other. Personally, I think each of the shows could have been extended, I could certainly see The Beef being taken along a quite horrifying line as the salesman talks about his efforts to keep his customer base interested in his product.
However, I did find both shows quite fascinating and thought-provoking in their own rather unique way. Both performances gave me plenty of food for thought on my journey home.
Review by Terry Eastham
Beefcake is a dark double bill exposing the rotting underbelly of modern masculinity. Two solo pieces use alternative performance practices to satirise how masculinity is performed and misogyny is masked today. Over the course of the one-hour show, Blabbermouth aims to prod into the murky depths of this world – revealing unsaid truths and damning reflections on social norms.
Blabbermouth is a company championing emerging artists seeking to create socially conscious and formally experimental work.
Episode One: “The Cake”
A Bouffon Clown “Nice Guy” finds love at last in the audience. A grotesque audience-participatory clown piece about manipulation, motivations and Dapper Laughs. Written and performed by Luke Rollason
Episode Two: “The Beef”
A salesman delivers an unusual keynote speech on the post-apocalyptic porn industry. Written by Alex Wood and performed by Tom Greaves