Arcade of Fools

Arcade of Fools: The Penis Monologues

I read somewhere that the gong is the only instrument that grows louder after it is struck, and so it is with this show. Not only during the actual performance, but also subsequently, has my appreciation for it grown. It is part of a series presented in this super-cute venue from Arcade of Fools, all of which feature performers trained with Jonathan Kay. In this one, three blokes tell real and often very personal stories around and about the trials, tribulations and triumphs of male sexuality.

Kay’s anarchic influence is clearly apparent, both in the physical clowning style and in the performers’ frequent forays into improvisation to augment their prepared material. Their stagecraft in this style seems fairly newly developed, but as the piece progresses this apparent naivety adds to the warmth and charm generated by their attempts to share the truth of their experience. They take turns telling their stories, with the other two portraying characters and objects in the tales, often creating physical tableaux in which inanimate objects are brought to life. The stories follow chronologically their life experiences, and they certainly don’t shy away from sharing embarrassing and controversial incidents – from penis comparisons in the school showers and early encounters with pornography, to drugs-fuelled bi-sexual experimentation. There is an hilariously cringe-worthy recreation of a first sex act in an alley, and a tender tale of a soldier’s search for affection in a German brothel. The frankness of these portrayals is not only funny, but effectively illustrates the complexity of male psychology. The ending is a poignant if grotesque re-enactment of a near-rape experience that demonstrates this commitment to put fooling to good purpose.

There are certainly laughs to be had, and the clowning style somehow serves the disarmingly honest material. Whilst I felt there was scope to edit down and tighten up some of the material, I came away with a genuine feeling of appreciation for their endeavour. If they stick with it and continue to develop their expressivity and playfulness, this could turn into a real gem of a show.

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About Matt Rudkin

Matt Rudkin is a theatre maker and teacher who creates work as Inconvenient Spoof. He has a BA in Creative Arts, an MA in Performance Studies, and studied with Philippe Gaulier (London), and The Actors Space (Spain). He was founder and compere of Edinburgh’s infamous Bongo Club Cabaret, concurrently working as maker and puppeteer with The Edinburgh Puppet Company. He has toured internationally as a street theatre performer with The Incredible Bull Circus, and presented more experimental work at The Green Room, CCA, Whitstable Biennale, ICA, Omsk and Shunt Lounge. He is also a Senior Lecturer in Theatre and Visual Art at the University of Brighton.