Hope Theatre, London – until 21 July 2018
Is masculinity in crisis? Looking at the reactions to England’s World Cup progress, you might be able to argue either way. But far more illuminating, and sobering, are statistics that show more than three-quarters of suicides are male yet more women than men seek the help they need. Or the overwhelming male prison population, and the entrenched violence that has put them there. So yes, yes it is.
And as traditional societal structures are exposed in a culture of #MeToo and more, where do men find themselves? Where do they turn to unleash emotions they scarcely know what to do with? It may not be an area that immediately evokes much sympathy but Joseph Skelton’s Fat Jewels acknowledges both the importance and impossibility of getting men, especially working-class men, to open up.
In the sweltering heat – both actual in terms of the Hope Theatre and figurative in the South Yorkshire council estate home of the play’s setting – Pat and Danny are two such men. Danny’s marriage has collapsed, his family left him, he’s the guy in the pub who won’t stop talking to you. Tonight, he’s alighted on Pat, himself depressed at his lot in life, still living with his mother and disquieted by troubling dreams.
Over a few cans and a sausage supper, Danny is insistent that he has the answer – therapy. But as the taut contours of Luke Davies’ production reveal themselves, it’s no conventional method he has in mind. And the chilling sense of foreboding that cuts through the banter only grows in sweaty intensity as the complexities of the twisted psyches here play out in a ferocious psychosexual duel.
Robert Walters’ Danny is perfectly calibrated, his thin veneer of blokeish bonhomie never really hiding the depth of his troubled soul. And against the nervy intensity of Hugh Train’s Pat, they make for a horribly gripping pair. Skelton’s writing layers in a dark vein of comedy which adds an additionally discomfiting level but crucially, it also points towards a possible way forward through all this pain.