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Masculinity is in crisis. This isn't a bad thing. But it is problematic. And painful. With the decline of traditional male industries, men have lost not only their jobs but also a source of masculine pride and identity. With this loss of meaning and purpose, and around this fragile sense of self, many men, particularly in ex-industrial areas, can form a kind of callous around themselves, an armour which they wear through life. Fat Jewels is a play about this callous, this armour. Set on a council estate in South Yorkshire it is about two people with a brittle sense of purpose. It is a play about the need for power and how destructive this can be. It is also a play about talking and the naked opportunity this opens when the armour is dropped.
Playwright Joseph Skelton
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"You’ve got nowt mate. Nowt going for yer. You flip burgers for nine hours a day and Sean says you’re still shit at it."
Two men are stuck in a room together, Pat thinks he’s sick, Danny agrees and suggests his own home grown therapy programme as a cure. They embark upon a series of ridiculous games which display their manhood, eating, verbal sparring, wrestling in sleeping bags; each a desperate attempt by Danny to assert his authority over Pat, and for Pat to rise to Danny's ludicrous expectations. It is about how one man's armour influences another's. Ironically all this is in the name of helping Pat to be psychologically 'well'.
Both characters are trapped in the aspiration of what you might call the male 'Gold standard'. This is an image which prizes power, control and invincibility above all else, and is displayed in the sportsmen, actors and politicians which flood our media. This primal, alpha-male archetype still has a peculiar hold over us as a society. It creates a horrible expectation. An expectation which leads men to compete and exert power over other people, and to pretend they can attain this when inside they doubt themselves. Danny is constantly looking for ways to diminish Pat's manhood in order to boost his own. This 'Gold standard' of male identify is the hard outer skin of the callous. But the harder Danny tries to present this hard exterior the more we become aware of the fragile identity he is concealing.
This emotional armour makes a conversation very difficult, many men are unlikely to seek emotional support from anyone but their partner. Men are much less likely than women to have a positive view of counselling or therapy, and when they do use these services, it is at the point of crisis. The result is very serious. Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK - with 84 men taking their own lives every week. The need to talk is critical, yet it is still not something men are culturally encouraged to do.
With a strange and bitter irony, the therapy in Fat Jewels which Danny creates to exert his dominance over Pat actually facilitates a conversation; it gets the two men talking to each other. As they battle it out in the room during the course of the play they open their weaknesses to each other. They allow, briefly and then with more candour, the other to see their scars, to look into the dark, hungry and sad place they hide from nearly all other eyes. And in this action they initiate the process of healing.
The play does not advocate home-grown therapy programmes and vicious power play as a means of communicating, but it does suggest that any situation can be one of awakening. The play shows masculinity in crisis, it shows two men at the point when their masculinity is either going to choke them entirely or break apart and reveal their true humanity underneath. It is a play about the opportunity within the crisis. With the clash of armour comes the beginning of the understanding that the armour is unnecessary. And so together they begin to take it off.
And this is how I see the future of masculinity. Male identity will crack open and we will see the humanity underneath. We will have to find forgiveness in this moment, for ourselves and others. Of course, the wearing of the mask has been a crucial part of knowing what it is to take the mask away. The new masculinity can only be born from the old. We can find the beautiful within the grotesque; the light captured in a bead of grease, a glimmering jewel in the fat.
Patriarchy and masculinity are very different things. Heavily male dominated culture is beginning to weaken. This is a very good thing. Feminine influence is growing; in culture, in politics, in domestic relationships. As patriarchy crumbles Masculinity will have to reinvent itself. At the moment it is in transition, it doesn’t yet know itself fully, and so Masculinity is in crisis. Which is necessary. Crisis sometimes creates the opening for change, for rebirth. Which is exactly what masculinity needs to emerge in a healthier and more balanced world.
FAT JEWELS is at
The Hope Theatre 3 - 21 July
A South Yorkshire council estate.
Pat’s having strange dreams.
He can’t shake them.
He’s gone round to Danny’s for a chat and some healthy advice.
Lonely and dangerous, Danny insists that what Pat needs is a therapy programme of Danny’s own making, involving cricket bats and trips to the zoo…
@ June 2018 London Pub Theatres Magazine
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