Men in the Cities is a tale of British modern masculinity, a zeitgeist that Chris Goode captures by mainly focusing on the darker aspects of his subject. So the link between the various characters in the third-person monologues is the murder of Lee Rigby.
This is a particular obsession of Jeff, an ex-soldier, but equally appears repetitively in the lyrical description of newsagent Rehan. All Goode’s characters are in crisis, at its most extreme in a well-planned suicide, but also in the alienation and isolation of the likes of Graeme, a gay man confused by his own feelings.
Whilst Goode is clearly debunking homophobia it does still disturb to have a teenager arousing himself with gay porn. The multiplicity of narratives is cleverly interwoven but still does become confusing. And the headlong breakneck speed of the delivery, in its almost arrogant manner, becomes quite irritating.
Goode’s performance is flawless though, it is more in the writing and direction that the problems arise. It feels like we should not really care for his characters. We too are isolated like them and given no choice but to feel disgust or at least disdain. But this is an intensely captivating piece but without the clarity of purpose of Confirmation, albeit a deliberate task to undertake for our bewilderment. It leaves us as depressed and frustrated as the very characters he describes.
Coincidentally Goode’s namesake, Chris Thorpe, also performs a one-man show at the West Yorkshire Playhouse this week. Confirmation is an extraordinary piece of theatre and quite unlike anything I’ve ever come across in some thirty years of reviewing. So incomparable it is, intense it is, but comprehensible – that’s a different story. Written and performed by Chris Thorpe and directed by Rachel Chavkin, it purports to consist of an ‘honourable dialogue’ with a person that Thorpe, and all liberals, would fundamentally disagree with.
So this one-man show has an invisible presence that is the mindset of a national socialist, Holocaust denier and white supremacist. The piece uses just simple props – an empty chair, A4 photocopied printouts and scraps of paper with leading questions. The aims and intentions of the show are to provoke, challenge and question our assumptions.
For example, we are given the song lyrics and a blast of an overtly racist song, but when the thing is put up to scrutiny another picture may be painted, MAY. Most importantly Thorpe lays his own pre-conceptions and prejudices on the line. But this does not retract from the deeply uncomfortable sense of feeling for the spectator, liberal or not. It is a quite violent or at least vehement performance and leaves you quite perplexed if not anxious.
One thing it avoids is the desire to deliberately shock, preferring just to put things out as they appear to be. A very complex and compulsive piece that raises many important questions without offering easy answers. Do not expect to be entertained but do prepare to engage and battle it out alongside Thorpe’s act.
Confirmation reviewed at West Yorkshire Playhouse on 4 November see http://www.chinaplatetheatre.com/confirmation for tour dates. Men in the Cities reviewed at West Yorkshire Playhouse on 5 November see http://www.chrisgoodeandcompany.co.uk/show/men-in-the-cities/ for tour dates.