Amidst a fairly conservative Traverse Fringe line up, this new show from mercurial theatre maker Chris Goode stands out a country mile, a smeared, soulful, messy, impassioned rant that tries to do too much, goes on too long, and has moments of such staggering potency that it feels like the air is on fire.
Performed by Goode himself, who stands in a natty suit and hoodie combo in front of a mound of desk fans, ‘Men in the Cities’ essentially takes the form of densely tangled thicket of paralleling stories, all of which concern men bogged in smalltime English life – comfortably numbed, but under it all yearning to do something desperately, outrageously transgressive. Which is a pretty archetypal sort of story, embodied in everything from the songs of Bruce Springsteen to the films of John Hughes.
What sets ‘Men in the Cities’ apart is the depth of the transgression, the way in which all Goode’s characters yearn for something that we, the audience, feel instinctually uncomfortable with. There’s the old soldier who believes maybe Lee Rigby’s killers had a valid point, but has nobody he can share this with. There’s fragile Ben, unable to cope with the monotony of normalcy, who kills himself. There’s his partner Matthew, who rounds on Ben’s dad Brian and tells him it was all his fault. Brian undergoes a stunning, babbling meltdown as he sheds the person he was before in a frenzied, masochistic attempt at atonement. And there’s Goode himself, written in as a first person character who transgresses by sleeping with a straight friend, and, perhaps more seriously, listens to a Snow Patrol acoustic album while doing so.
At first, Goode’s characters are sweetly-observed and charming and funny; but it all curdles – what his characters do is repulsive or outrageous or baffling; I think he’s saying that you can’t smash the status quo via societal norms, effecting radical personal change can mean become a terrorist in your own life.
The show is not without its flaws – the clutter and density may be the point, but I think losing a story or two may have sharpened it, while I really couldn’t get onboard with the glib storyline about 10-year-old sex pest Rufus.
But when ‘Men in the Cities’ is good, it’s staggering, and while I haven’t said that much about Goode’s performance, that is absolutely the key – as he shrieks and babbles his way through Brian’s breakdown to the hymnal strains of a Talk Talk cover, there’s something manic, shamanic, horrible there, an uneasy sense that in this room he’s moved outside of societal rules, if only for a moment.
By Andrzej Lukowski