Review : Manosphere
Milan Gregory Perera
After weeks of intense rehearsals, the stellar cast of the much-anticipated production of Manosphere finally got to tread the boards at the Winston Theatre in front of a sold-out audience for its opening night. There was an air of exhilaration among the crowd as the theatre was sent into a lugubrious solemnity as the curtains began to part.
Proudly presented by the University of Bristol Drama Society (DramSoc), the timing of the production, which attempts to unravel toxic masculinity, could not come at a better time as the front pages of national newspapers are splashed with the news of the rape and domestic abuse linked to football player, Mason Greenwood.
The scene is set at the University Student Union (SU) building. From the onset, nothing seems alarming as the members of the Feminist Society were catching up on day-to-day affairs from studies to Tik-tik videos. This was shaken up by the raucous entrance of the members of the men’s football team. The group of young men are loud and proud, and insists that they have the room reserved, despite the Feminist Society members were able to provide proof of the booking. Both parties refusing to back down, ended up in a tussle.
The production used two screens on either side of the stage to display screenshots of various of private messages and tweets as they are being typed out. Manosphere shows how toxic masculinity has been able to adapt to the ever-changing zeitgeist: the online platforms have become the hotbeds of virulent misogyny as the perpetrators are able to hide behind anonymity.
Word gets out that there is someone with a knife in the building. The news travels fast, everyone thrown into panic or indifference – people are surely overreacting. Everyone is in a lockdown in the SU building as it is of paramount importance to catch the miscreant. The suspicion fall on Jonah (played by Jago Abbott) as he looks “weird” and lonely. The footballers use disproportionate force on the suspicious looking student and tie him up to a chair. Not being able to find the weapon amongst his belongings, they had to untie him.
This pervasive atmosphere turns into a dialectical chamber where the Feminist Society members and footballers exchange views, observations and frequent insults. The leaders of the opposing camps (and friends from home), JJ and Alfie, were played disarmingly well by Gabriel Adebiyi and Emma Monnickendam. The two thespians showed their vast range by conveying a myriad of conflicting emotions, from friendship to hurt to anger to fear. The polished cast never put a toe out of line, rising to the challenge with aplomb.
The questions that were raised are valid more than ever before. What makes a man? Does he lose his masculinity if his misogynistic views are ironed out? This came to forefront during the exchange when Tom (Callum Thorne), who sits with the Feminist Society members, was thrown a homophobic slur, as he dared to challenge the narrative that the cohort of Alpha males religiously adhere to. Henry Thorpe-Spinks and Kalila Smith too locked horns in this curious encounter and one could feel the simmering tension when the exchange reached fever pitch. The standoff was not all intense as Orla (Ruby Mckinney) interjects her pearls of wisdom with a light-hearted and disarming candour in a charming Belfast drawl which reduced the audience to a fit of laughter and brought the room temperature down by a fraction.
But there is no getting away from the harsh realities on the ground emanating from toxic masculinity where there is a sense of entitlement coupled with apathy. JJ is not even remotely concerned when he was told his ex was spiked. When inquired of his callousness, he retorts, “We used to go out” as if her wellbeing as a human being does not count anymore because it is no longer in relation to him.
The final 15 minutes of the production reached a crescendo with the revealing of the identity of the culprit who was carrying the knife, among the least expected! The squabbling turns into a bloodbath of Macbethian proportions.
The creative forces behind this production are the director Anna Sharp and the producer Stan Abbott-Stacey. The pair had the unenviable task of whittling down hundreds of keen thespians who turned up for the auditions to fifteen. The script came into shape in an organic, collegial way where everyone contributed to the script through devising. When I met the dynamic duo after the performance they were overcome with gratitude and a quiet sense of triumph as the weeks of preparation saw its fruition.