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Review of Alpha Who? at the Cockpit Theatre

Matt Franco, Alpha Who (Credit Saverio Tonoli)
Matt Franco, Alpha Who (Credit Saverio Tonoli)

We are in an era where traditional ideas of masculinity are not necessarily ‘woke’.

In fact, the word ‘Toxic’ is often put in front of the word masculinity to evoke a negative image of the word. This is leading to a society where men often don’t seem to know their place. After generations of being taught how a man is meant to act, we are now being told all that is wrong and we need to share our feelings and be vulnerable. It’s no wonder there is such and mental strife amongst the male population, so much in fact that every week 84 men in the UK take their own lives. This is the subject addressed by writer/performer Matt Franco in his one-man show Alpha Who? which has recently enjoyed a limited run at the Cockpit Theatre.

Now, this really is a difficult show to review for me. There is no real A-Z narrative that takes Matt’s characters – Truthful Self, Control Freak, Laid Back Guy, Invasive Avoider and Child – from start to finish. Instead, there are individual scenes that combine theatre, dance and a visual art installation – scenography by painter Saverio Tonoli – that takes the audience on a trip through Matt’s mind.

This lack of a narrative really didn’t work for me. The whole piece felt very disjointed with ideas started but not taken to any conclusion. So for example, there is talk of the character’s father having killed himself and some quite impressive acting with a knife, but then that disappears and is not mentioned again.

Matt himself is a very talented performer with an almost mesmerising stage presence that holds your attention as he moves around the stage, or breaks the fourth wall and engages directly with the audience. Saverio Tonoli’s scenery is fascinating to view. A series of flats painted with what looks like random designs but, as they were moved or the light changed, seemed almost Rorschachian in the way they drew me in to try and analyse them.

When writing a review, I normally sit and think back to the most memorable moments of the show. Unfortunately, with Alpha Who? The only things that spring instantly to mind were the negative moments. The overall problem for me was that Alpha Who? took, what felt like a very long time – though it was only just over an hour – to go nowhere. By the end, as I dutifully clapped alongside everyone else, I was sat wondering what I had seen and what it was supposed to mean. Had it addressed the basic questions raised at the start? For me, I’m afraid the answer was no. And this frustrated me no end. Either the show had failed to deliver or I had completely missed the point. A part of me hopes it was the latter but I’m afraid I think it was probably the former.

2 gold stars

Review by Terry Eastham

As part of the 2019 Camden Fringe, Alpha Who? from Matt Franco explores what it means to be a man today. Part theatre, part dance, and part visual art installation, Alpha Who? is an autobiographically brave and honest solo performance inspired by the writer’s own personal experiences.

Every week 84 men take their own lives in the UK. This statistic reflects how today’s modern society is struggling to define masculinity. After generations of masculine repression, men are now expected to be able to share their feelings and be vulnerable. But how do they know how to share?

Delving into the reasons behind the silent mental health crisis men are experiencing today, creator Matt Franco explores gender identity, vulnerability, emotionality and the binary restrictions of feminine and masculine ideals. As we meet the ‘Truthful Self’, the ‘Control Freak’, the ‘Laid Back Guy’, the ‘Invasive Avoider’ and the ‘Child’, Alpha Who? explores what other beings live inside us as we are taken on a journey to battle the cultural pressures to conform.

Concept Matt Franco
Direction Gail Sixsmith
Scenography Saverio Tonoli
Voice Jonathan Dawes
Music Composition Sabio Janiak
Sound Matt Franco & Sabio Janiak
Light Gail Sixsmith, Matt Franco, Saverio Tonoli
Costume Ginevra Angiuli

Alpha Who?
Dates Wednesday 7th – Friday 9th August 2019, 7pm
The Cockpit, Gateforth Street, Marylebone, London NW8 8EH

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