DramaLondonReviewVAULT Festival

Lad – VAULT Festival, London  

Reviewer:  Richard Maguire

 Writer:  Rhys Dunlop and Alan Mahon

Director:    Thomas Martin

Could Lad be the funniest show of this year’s VAULT Festival? Possibly. Should we be laughing quite so hard at every sexist joke? Possibly not. Charting one man’s relationship with toxic masculinity, Lad manages to navigate the choppy seas of gender politics with the help of humour and self-awareness.

Steve is going to be a best man and we first meet him rehearsing his speech for the wedding. The jokes come thick and fast. Initially, we think that the other man on stage is Steve’s best friend, a mate who encourages him to tell the dirtiest gag or make the most chauvinistic wisecrack. But as the play continues, we realise that this friend is actually an embodiment of toxic masculinity, and as this figure Rhys Dunlop is suitably slimy, sometimes moving across the penis-shaped stage like Kafka’s cockroach. He’s grotesque, but he’s also very funny and we laugh in spite of ourselves.

It’s Toxic’s job to ensure that Steve remains a lad in a world where laddishness is increasingly frowned upon. Even Steve’s pals on his Whatsapp group are ‘woke’, a stance that leads Steve to call them the Femi-Nazis. Toxic suggests that these friends are so enlightened that they ‘woke’ each other off! But without Toxic’s snarling presence Steve would be a fairly modern man. Alan Mahon gives him a sweet but gullible nature, and the fact that both men are wearing shorts, gives them both endearing boyish qualities. Steve’s ambition to work in a zoo also allows the audience to root for him, hoping that he will find the strength to ignore his poisonous alter-ego.

As Steve begins to date Jenny (or is it, Toxic asks, Jenni with an i?) we begin to see how ideas of masculinity and pride interfere with relationships. Of course, these observations are not new, but in Dunlop and Mahon’s performances this battle between Neanderthal and Progressive Man is as tight as a tightrope. They crawl and hang off each other, perfectly symbolising the contemporary masculinity crisis.

As Lad’s writers, too, Dunlop and Mahon finally offer a version of the new man who Steve could be. This is the only part of the show that doesn’t quite ring true. In the process of eradicating Steve’s laddishness, he is unjustly castrated and becomes a flimsy facsimile of his previous self. But this lad’s journey from hetero to metro is joyful, helped by the polished and perfectly timed acting of the show’s writer-performers.   Lad is a riot, and they put the boy in boisterous.

Runs until 8 March 2020

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