Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Review: 'The Institute of Nuts' at the Matchstick Piehouse Theatre, 9th April 2019

Reviewed by David James
4 Stars

Fuck ass-grabbers, service-staff abusers, catcallers, post-pub brawlers, knife-wielding teens, gambling traders, internet CHUDS, braying homophobes and... well, sadly this list could go on for some time. These are the men who, hopped up on testosterone and fuelled by their own insecurities, make life miserable. What is to be done? 

Mark Daniels' Institute of Nuts is a dark comedy about what it means to be a man. The Institute itself is a bizarre boarding school in which teenagers are broken, beaten and brainwashed until they become models of masculinity. We follow three students: new kid B (Theo Toksvig-Stewart), effeminate 'problem' P (Christian Andrews) and the sole female student O (Molly Ward). They're under the direct tutelage of mentor M (Craig Abbott) and the school's overbearing warden/headmistress E (Tori Louis).

The three pupils - who cannot remember how they ended up here - are put through a series of increasingly bizarre lessons. They must learn blind self-confidence, how to squash empathy, take pleasure in violence and that their beliefs are impenetrable. Each student is graded on their behaviour, with those that fall short consigned to play violent videogames, watch action-films and listen to assertive music (Blurred Lines is used as a great example).

It's a very strange setting. Daniels' script never quite roots itself in one genre: part science fiction, part dystopia all smeared with a gooey topping of unvarnished allegory. Director Edwina Strobl stages the play in the round under unforgivingly bright lights, giving the performers nowhere to hide - a sense of surveillance underlined by television screens showing the E suspiciously peering down at her pupils, with the audience providing their own unflinching gaze.

As the play proceeds the situation becomes less a narrative and more a vehicle for an argument about the flawed way society raises men. By the time we're in the closing scenes, the script is practically beating the audience about the head with an (inflatable) club and yelling the themes at you. Some might find this a little too didactic, but hey, if you've got something important to say you might as well be sure that everyone's getting it. This comes to a head in the final scenes, where the end the characters are just yelling statistics (e.g. 95% of mass shooters are men!).

If Institute of Nuts were just a gender politics lecture masquerading as theatre it’d be hard to swallow. Fortunately, the writing displays a consistent level of wit and imagination, with the various lessons feeling like comedy sketches that skewer traditional masculine notions. I was a particular fan of a very effective (and gross) ‘shot roulette’ sequence, in which the pupils are expected to down a random shot that could either be vodka, engine oil or watered down animal shit. I was also consistently amused at the iconography scattered through the piece, with the characters spending their downtime reading through 90s-era James Bond fan magazines (it’s the little touches that count).

It's these constant dabs of comedy that make this play’s bitter pill go down easy. And boy does it prove to be a bitter pill. Towards the end the play pretty much discards its fictional conceit and explains its own metaphor – explaining that we are the pupils trapped inside an invisible prison designed to beat our personalities into shape.

The play’s message is a relatively timeless one – it would have been especially impactful during the 90s lad’s mag era. In 2019 it takes on a new relevance due to the influence of self-help gurus like Jordan Peterson, who combines simple advice about standing up straight and tidying your room with bizarre nonsense about lobster-hierarchies informing human society and claims that femininity represents chaos. That's on top of similar corners of the right-wing internet espousing that young men should develop a 'gorilla mindset' and that the best style of argument is just to yell louder than the other person. 

So yeah, I dug it. It's a smart play staged with no small amount of verve in a cool new theatre. The cast is great, the direction is nice and the message is relevant as all hell. Good stuff.

The Institute of Nuts is at the Matchstick Piehouse Theatre until 12 April. Tickets here.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

0 Responses to “Review: 'The Institute of Nuts' at the Matchstick Piehouse Theatre, 9th April 2019”

Post a Comment

© All articles copyright LONDON CITY NIGHTS.
Designed by SpicyTricks, modified by LondonCityNights