Devised and Performed by Alister Lownie and Katerina Radeva
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
You see it quite often; social media tags on how men are no longer real men. The crass knuckle dragging nature of toxic masculinity would have us believe that men have been castrated, pushed into offices and coffee bars. Created and performed by Alister Lownie and Katherina Radeva, the pair seek to instil the concepts of men, economy, politics and how Britain has changed since joining the E.U. Or at least, this is what they intended.
It’s a Smörgåsbord of subjects which, whilst covered by some, are not at the forefront of enough productions. An interesting area to explore, particularly in the light of recent pushes against the other, the foreign and the ‘victory’ of the working-class man. Just a shame Manpower isn’t really achieving this…
If you come away with an oddly specific understanding of Hi-Fi systems and cabling, at least you learned something. In an excruciatingly tedious (though this is sadly the intention) opening description of sound systems, Alister Lownie describes all the components coming together. How skimping out on a frail link will ruin the entire experience and – you get the Brexit analogy right? He is later joined by Radeva, who arrived in the UK at the age of 17. She delivers monologues surrounding how men of Britain used to be strong, independent and pioneers. Broken by technology, ‘smiling Prime Ministers’ and the European Union.
There is, however, quite a laugh to be had from this evening. Radeva offers a tremendous level of unexpected snark, her physical nature almost slapstick at times. Together with ‘straight man’ Lownie, the production offers levity which wasn’t accounted for. She makes for a caricature of Thatcherism, whilst also representing the ‘other’. The infamous trope of our fears embodied by a foreign entity, though he performance of this crosses from a caricature into a cartoon.
Perhaps most frustrating, Manpower has the makeup of something which could have been innovative. Instead, though it has taken a concept, wrapping it in such a flaunting manner. This needn’t be a complex production, if anything it’s desired message would have had staying power had it been tighter. Instead, the discussion of working-class men, who feel their masculinity has been stripped is just balled up amidst perplexingly empty repetitions and songs of the eras.
Dragging personal opinions, especially surrounding Brexit, into a production is fruitless but inevitable. There is certainly precise commentary – particularly with the line; “A leader who was just better at smiling than the rest”. Lownie’s remarks of doing our own research, how men in suits will sell us things. There is a stance here, almost plastered in neon symbolism but it’s neither subtle nor offering an insight. Just pointing out the obvious.
If you find yourself more interested in Lownie constructing his shed, don’t worry – you’re not the only one. In honesty, this is perhaps the most impressive part of Manpower. The physicality of creating the structure, not just a standing one but the literal wall dividing himself from Radeva is remarkable. The inference, to have a man return to his manual labour roots, to remove the foreign usurper and get his hands mucky again is a decent concept, though entirely hollow in practice.
Manpower somehow flies too close to the sun, overstretching thin commentary whilst hardly lifting from the ground. There’s something here, something which could have been tremendous. Physical theatre, with a political snark drawing commentary on the perceived notion of masculinities decline in working-class men. When really, it’s discount Ground Force with hot air commentary.
Runs until 27 September 2018 | Image: Alex Brenner