“Men in the Cities” by Chris Goode

at the Traverse Theatre, Saturday 9th August 2014

It feels odd to say of an oft-described “experimental” theatre-maker, but Men In The Cities is perhaps the most novelistic and literary piece of theatre I’ve seen this year. In the same vein as Mark Haddon’s A Spot of Bother or Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, Goode’s monologue follows the lives of a number of people – specifically men in this case – over the course of the same period of time. We catch glimpses of lives, snatches of personality. Masculinity undergoing crisis, and masculinity undergoing breakthrough.

Rehan, Rawalpindi, Jeff, Tom, Graham, Toby, Ben, Matthew, Rufus, Dale, Brian.

Stood alone on a beige circle in front of a wall of fans, Goode begins with a brief and welcoming “How’s everybody doing?”, before outlining the ‘opening scenes’, as it were, in the lives of a number of men. They listen to the radio, read the news, and share their thoughts, as their ideas and interactions with the world often collide. Over the course of eighty minutes, Men In The Cities paints a textured, emotive picture of city life, occasionally intersecting with the life of its author and his own musings on the act of writing.

Early-ish in the torrent of word which forms Men In The Cities, Goode chucks in the words ‘valour’, ‘gallant’ and ‘steed’, almost as a signifier towards what this piece is about so that we know how to ‘read’ the rest of the show (and that verb, ‘read’, is again a pointer towards the beautifully novelistic way in which the narrative is structured). Here, there are men trying to understand their own sexuality, trying to understand whether it is possible to be a ‘man’ in the twenty-first century and trying to understand the relationship between violence, death and sex.

Rehan, Rawalpindi, Jeff, Tom, Graham, Toby, Ben, Matthew, Rufus, Dale, Brian.

Goode also gives an agonising but poetic glimpse into what ‘depression’ might mean in all its manifestations; loneliness, routine, sadness, apathy, struggle and everything else in between. “There’s just separateness. There’s just the shortfall,” he says at one point, and a scene where one character commits suicide is somehow gorgeous in its simplicity but, obviously, deeply, deeply sad.

As well as an acute contemplation of these ideas, Men In The Cities is also fucking funny and a sumptuous display of generous theatre-making. One moment, the internal dialogue of a character is humorously bemoaning “the fucking Shard”, and the next another admits that “Life is a sex game that went wrong”. It’s important that Chris puts himself as a character in all this, complete with a night out featuring Cony’s Tassos Stevens and playwright Tim Crouch (the impression is spot on). From this moment, the life of the writer blends in to the life of his characters, climaxing with Snow Patrol, Flight MH370 and the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, reality and fiction intertwining so we question our own truths.

Yes, you can level the accusation at this show that women are perhaps under-represented, but the title – MEN In The Cities – sort of gives that away and acknowledges that fault. And yes, it’s perhaps a little engorged in the middle, as the narrative sags a little, but then we probably need that as the build towards the dizzying, emotional climax creeps up on us, and the jokes are so good it’s difficult to begrudge that.

But perhaps what’s most extraordinary about Goode’s work here is the way in which it portrays a pretty nihilistic vision of contemporary life in a tone which might be described as relatively buoyant; in content, the conclusion would seem to be “Why bother?”, but the delivery is so energetic and playful that it makes you feel that little bit more alive than you were when you went in.

Rehan, Rawalpindi, Jeff, Tom, Graham, Toby, Ben, Matthew, Rufus, Dale, Brian.

“Fuck ’em.”

P.S Andrew Haydon and Matt Trueman‘s reviews of this show are great. Read ’em.

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