Rhum and Clay / Kit Redstone
Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh
A man going to the locker room of his local gym. It hardly sounds like a dramatic premise, much less the premise of one of the buzz shows of this year’s Edinburgh Festival. But there it is. Kit Redstone’s collaborative piece about the nature of masculinity works from that simple premise, and it packs a knockout punch.
Devised/ co-created with Lecoq graduates Rhum and Clay, the cast of four is all male, and over an hour it explores the pitfalls and privileges of masculinity through the prism of the rituals of a gym. Using movement sequences to play out expanded and sometimes surreal fugues, the show looks at the markers that line the road to manhood. The unique perspective we get here though is that Kit Redstone has, by his own estimation, only been a man since 2014 when he got his first shot of testosterone. It’s a simple premise, true enough, but this is a vital and important piece of theatre. This is something we need to know about as an audience, and that is one reason why this is a must see show.
The story opens with Kit’s visit to the gym, and the excitement and terror this involves, and then backtracks to bring us through the complex passages that have led him to this point. Some of it is side splittingly funny – the swaggering self-importance of the boys in the locker room is beautifully undercut by the wry bemusement of Redstone, engaging with them as an equal, but as someone differently male. Above all Kit Redstone is a very gifted actor, with an acute sense of comic timing and a very charismatic presence. The ensemble actors, Matthew Wells, Julian Spooner and Daniel Jacob play it straight for the most part, which ramps up the comedy to absurd levels.
At points, the piece is both harrowingly grim and hilariously funny. The flashback to a school disco sees Kit forcibly dressed in a pink frock, and for a moment, when the bigger men in the gym force it onto him, it feels like an assault and is almost unwatchable – and then the awkward pubescent slow dancing and snogging starts and the audience erupts with relieved laughter. Moments like this are beautifully judged.
However things turn gradually darker and get much more serious. Stripped for his shower, Kit is relieved to have gotten wrapped in his towel without having had to expose himself – and then one of the guys points out that it isn’t his towel. And he asks for it back.
This crisis moment is one of the most unbearably tense things I’ve seen in a theatre. We dread Kit’s having to give the towel back, and yet, with an awful certainty, we know it is coming. The fear in the audience is palpable: a mix of conflicting emotions, dread and horror, empathy, excitement, prurient curiosity. You could have heard a pin drop.
Finally, after much painful prevarication, Kit takes off the towel. There are suppressed gasps. But this literal dénouement enacts a very powerful and emotional moment on the audience, and as a piece of theatre it is unarguably ingenious. At first we are shocked, and maybe impressed with the bravery of the performer, and then by degrees we get used to the fact of his nudity, as one always does with nakedness on stage. And within a few beats, we as an audience are emotionally aligned with the character of Kit. Before us is not a naked man, nor a naked woman, but a human, and it takes no great effort to see a human body as just a body. This is the point that our hero arrives at in the narrative too – he gives up caring what the guys in the gym think. His body is his body – what anyone thinks about it is neither here nor there.
One can only have respect for an actor prepared to put himself on the line like this, and it is undeniably brave. The level of commitment to the performance, and to the material, is a lesson for many of the lesser theatre makers in town this week.
That said, there were details about the show that were less than satisfying. For a piece of work made by actors with movement-based theatre training, this is not a great showcase for École Jacques Lecoq. While the switches and interchanges in the locker room work well, some of the dance sequences lack original choreography. This might be a strategy, presented as they are as representations of crass masculinity. But unfortunately they often also lack snap and sharpness.
A few of the structural elements of the script too were somewhat indulgent: the Marlon Brando segment felt overlong, and didn’t really add substantial value to the piece. This was true also of the Diva, played by Daniel Jacob, a highly regarded drag performer as well as an actor. For much of the play he was sidelined, reduced to looking on at the action and nodding his head ruefully as the Alpha male gym guys act like alpha male gym guys do. His significance as a representative of gay male / non-dominator values is understood, but his role in the action was peripheral for much of the show.
These are in a sense quibbles though. The show is all about the journey of the lead character, and in this it is both quality entertainment, with laughs and tears and suspense and surprise, and an ideologically heavyweight piece of theatre.
At the curtain the audience demonstrated how moved they were with roars of approval and ecstatic applause. They loved this show, not just for the sheer enjoyment to be had in it, but also for the gutsiness of its performers. And one could tell that in large measure they were roaring their approval for Kit Redstone. This is a writer-performer of unique ability, and we can expect great things from him in future.