Walking into the Alphabetti theatre my first thought was, how did I not know about this cool little place? My second thought was that the ten rows of mismatched chairs would offer no degree of anonymity to neither me nor the performer.
The lights dim and Jon Coleman, the creator of this one man show about the complexities of masculinity, struts out in a pair of grey underwear and begins rifling through a rack of dresses, suits and frilly shirts, eventually deciding on a red sparkly number. I looked towards my friend, what had we got ourselves into? But what followed was neither sensationalist, nor preachy. It was a frank, funny, often devastating exploration of what it means to be a white, middle class straight man.
Coleman introduced two robotically voiced figures—a shop mannequin and an inflatable doll—to act as the other players, and at first I was dubious about the necessity of their part in the performance.
There were points when Jon and Manfred the mannequin held stilted conversations about gender that made me squirm in my seat, unable to hide, but on reflection this was probably the intention.
Conversations about gender are awkward and stilted and when confronted with adverse ideas we do want to shy away from them.
However, Manfred totally came into his own in a final monologue detailing the causes of Coleman’s need to be masculine, delivered while Coleman sat on a chair staring unblinkingly ahead as the robot announced ‘Jon is not capable of saying any of this himself. That’s why he got me to do it.’
I left, wondering about why such a stigma around men expressing their emotions exists. ‘How To Be a Man’ is a step in the right direction to fighting this. Jon Coleman’s piece is an interesting expose on the power, the privilege and the patriarchies that silently rule our lives and I would see it again, though I perhaps wouldn’t sit at the front.