In contemporary conversation, gender is increasingly understood as a performance, the response to social conditioning and a mask that can shape or even overwhelm the individual. The PappyShow’s celebration of contemporary maleness, Boys, joyfully embodies the opposite point of view. A romping ensemble piece with a cast of thirteen, the show sets out to explode narrow definitions of gender or type and instead fully embrace the breadth of individual perspective that makes up the experiences of young British men of colour in 2019. In doing so, they turn the problem on its head, forcing an expansion of the definition – they are proudly, variously ‘boys’ and also undeniably all their own true selves.
The production has been developed through extensive workshop sessions exploring physical work, devising and exercise, for which the company was established by director Kane Husbands in 2013. Their show has emerged almost as a bi-product of this process. The holding open of this space for the various participant-performers has generated material with a profound authenticity and playfulness. Games and competition – often led on-stage on this evening by Kwami Odoom, the company’s Education and Outreach Coordinator – are used as the engine for many scenes, from overt competitions of strength and stamina, to scenes formed from statement disclosures on a topic set anew each night. The whole is put together with a lightness of touch that makes no apologies for the workshop feel of some scenes (amply balanced by some lovely and detailed choreographic sequences) – the company’s charm leads us through the looser sections. Playing themselves, the boys are nevertheless compelling creations who we want to spend time with.
The overall atmosphere is infectiously warm, inclusive and fun and it’s easy to forget how unusual and important it is on an British stage for a show to foreground these stories and, indeed, these bodies. Together, the ensemble share stories, both through movement, often accompanied by a really banging soundtrack, and through gesture, physical image and storytelling. The stories are of their origins, of moments that have shaped them, of their loves and losses, and of the life challenges they face now in this moment. This is a performance in which we are all undeniably here together in this place with these individuals: the performance’s immediacy casts a powerful spell.
They decide to open the performance with ‘a fight’– a familiar scene of boisterousness and aggression that suddenly turns and runs out of control. All of the show’s content, much of which packs a real emotional punch, is presented without comment. ‘Here we are,’ they say, ‘take us or leave us – here we all are: lovers, competitors, fathers and sons, flirts, husbands, heroes and criminals; lost in love, in grief, in fear, in solidarity.’ In presenting these stories with such an open hand, with a joy in their performing and a tenderness toward their material, the show delivers a response to the vexed question of contemporary manhood with the care and respect it deserves.
Featured image (top) PappyShow: Boys. Photo Dina Tse