“Man up”; it’s a phrase most boys and men have heard, or even told themselves, at some point in their lives. But it’s the counterintuitive nature of this advice — which is really saying “bury those feelings” — which serves as the heart of this Melbourne Fringe performance on masculinity in the modern age.
Based on a series of interviews which asked how a man should look and behave, the four-part cast embodies a range of characters – from the bad boy to the metrosexual – to demonstrate there’s no ‘one size fits all’ answer to such questions. Interweaving survey responses to seemingly trivial questions with personal tales of rape, domestic violence and homophobia, Man Up! portrays masculinity in its darkest, most damaging forms. Not only is the macho, bravado act toxic to those who adopt it, but it’s also detrimental to anyone who dares challenge it.
We often hear about the patriarchy from the female perspective and the many ways in which it’s oppressive to women. In light of this, Man Up! does well to demonstrate how gender roles and patriarchal structures negatively impact men – especially those who don’t live up to a certain standard of what a “real” man should be.
The messages of Man Up!, however, tend to get lost among clunky wardrobe changes and excessive props whose meaning or relevance to the act aren’t entirely clear. While the cast mostly do well slipping in and out of a myriad of characters, distinctions blur here and there, creating further confusion. These awkward moments are few and far between, and the heart of Man Up! shines as its characters unpack mental health, sexuality and the stigma that comes with not fitting neatly into the perfect man-shaped cookie cutter.
Before the show, the audience were each given a piece of paper and asked to write down their male role model – many of which would be revealed to read ‘dad’. This exercise served as a prompt for the characters to speak of their male role models and what makes them so. Where society would tell you that a staunch attitude and stiff upper lip are the characteristics of a man worth looking up to, these stories instead spoke of men who embodied empathy, softness and other traits traditionally shoved in the ‘feminine’ pile.
While Man Up! doesn’t always hit its mark with precision, it provides a great level of insight into a spectrum of issues and pressures that men, boys and male-identifying folk are faced with every day and assures that it’s okay not to live up to the expectations placed on men’s shoulders.
Man Up! runs until Tuesday September 24 as part of Melbourne Fringe.
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