Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Muscle is an engrossing hour and fifteen minutes of aching sadness and heart-warming comedy. The five strong all male cast weave together to spin a fluid account of the numerous stories which were collected from the interviews of ‘real’ men. Shock n Awe Performance Co Ltd delivers a piece of theatre which refreshingly doesn’t resort to stereotypes but instead delivers something which is beautifully tangible. Muscle will leave you with a heavy heart of emotion and a refreshed clarity of the men in your life.
The show opens with the cast and set lined up behind seven moveable screens, projected images of the male form colour the screens whilst mutterings are heard and the occasional sentence becomes decipherable. ‘When I was young’ and ‘naive’ are the most common phrases heard. Shock n Awe then masterfully guide the audience through the ages of men; birth, teenage woes, fatherhood, death and everything in between; all equally complicated and confusing. The cast masterfully deliver the memories and events of others, flitting and folding themselves into characters that are sometimes natural and other times not, somehow all fit and are believable. Some stories are related, others are not. Some are concerning, some disturbing and others just tell it how it is. Above all this is a piece of theatre about the impact that men have had on people’s lives as role models and peers.
Greg Cullen’s script is delivered with intelligence and dexterity. The cast’s ownership of the well spun stories allows the audience to be ensnared in the beautiful story telling. Hugh Thomas, Sule Rimi, Dean Rehman, Lee Mengo and Lewis Reeves seamlessly move from spoken word to physical theatre which at times is also fused together to transport the audience into the lives of the stories owners. Quick firing dialogue trips off Hugh Thomas’ tongue as he reveals a teenage coming of age, confessions to Father Knob and the escapades of ‘Titting-up’. The account of Frankie, a young man who is affected by muscular dystrophy comes to life as the ensemble transport his body around the stage with a gentleness which distressingly highlights the serene contortion of Lewis Reeves movements, each one performed with strength and dignity.
The cast’s physical prowess is at times intoxicating, and works best when performed as an ensemble. With simple and efficient movement the team of men move together to become fathers, fighters and businessmen in a western Haka. The captivating dialogue of Sule Rimi’s engaging portrayal of a petrified new father is supported by the percussive punctuations that he makes with and against his body. The physical theatre of this piece is a great example of how movement can work to support as supposed to being layered on top, added or distracting from the important bit, the telling of a story.
The story of Barry, a boy who becomes a protector and carer too early in life has enough substance to stand alone. Whilst impressively beautiful in its sadness and hope, its change of pace and the importance which this story line holds feels slightly awkward in comparison to the rest of the production. Although this account is a tribute to the brilliant writing sometimes you can have too much of a good thing and a little space is required for the rest to breath. However Muscle is truly beguiling.