Heavenly pursuits

Man Act have always been what they sounded like: two men who perform, sometimes with other men. Now they‘re crossing the gender divide with their stage show Heaven. Mark Fisher finds out why.

‘m talking ‘bout boys (yeah. yeah. boys).

what a bundle ofjoy. Or so The Shirelles

pithily put it. But boys. as you‘ll have

noticed. have more than joy in their

bundles. Like the man said. boys keep

swinging. and boys. thanks to feminism and the whole hoo-ha over sexual politics. are still trying to work it out.

Two boys in particular. Simon Thorne and Phillip Mackenzie. have spent more time than most figuring what makes a man a man. Collectively known as Man Act. Thorne. a musician by training. and Mackenzie. whose background is that rare combination of psychology and striptease. have spent the last decade deconstructing. piecing together and celebrating the modern male: the machismo. the emotional inarticulacy. the bonding and the sharp suits.

Now the company is back in Glasgow. with the concluding part of a trilogy that for the first time has given women an input. Following C‘a/l Blue .lane. written by Deborah Levy and seen at the CCA in 1993. and Jimmv Messiah. written by Nancy Reilly and seen during Mayfest at the Arches in 1994. Heaven breaks the greatest Man Act taboo of all by introducing a woman onto the stage.

Written by Jane Buckler. it‘s an unsettling contemporary satire set in an out-of—the-way hotel where three travellers come to rest. And one of them is female. played by Welsh performance artist Athena Constantine.

‘Where in the past we were looking at male identity in a limbo. these three pieces have looked much more specifically at what life is like in Britain right now.‘ says Simon Thorne. who also appears in the show. ‘C‘al/ Blue Jane

‘In the past we were looking at male identity in a limbo. There comes a point where you’ve got to address a real-world

scenario with women in it.’ Simon Thorne

and Jimmy il/Iessia/i were about relationships between men. but it became necessary to put a woman on stage to upset the dynamic between them. There comes a point where you‘ve got to address a real-world scenario with women in it.‘

It‘s interesting to see how fast things have changed. Man Act‘s high profile contribution to Glasgow 1990 was their all-male show The .S‘weatlodge at Tramway. It was a lively. movement-based performance piece that used a large band of local men to explore male imagery from James Bond to ballroom dancing. Since that time a new culture of Iaddishness has found

a degree of legitimacy in Britain. The wolf- whistle might have been replaced by the half- ironic wink. but the mid-90s man has had the courage to admit that his main obsessions are still football. beer and cleavages. even if he does now do his share of the ironing.

So with Loaded on the news-stands and Men Behaving Badly on the telly. does Simon Thorne think the company is ahead of its time'.’ ‘Man Act has always ridden a tricky course.‘ he says. ‘We‘re always pushing the need for men to put themselves forward. to celebrate themselves. but with some sense of responsibility. In the past we‘ve attracted flak from both gay men and feminists because the agenda wasn‘t clear at that point. But now if you look at ()asis. for example. despite the fact that they‘re behaving


like a load 0f yobs. there has to be a sense of irony in what they do. if only because their girlfriends are not going to let them get away with it one would hope. Maybe we‘ve got to the point where we can broaden the spectrum a bit and not be so terrified by a kind of political correctness.‘

Man Act has always been quick to disassociate itself from the idea that it might be functioning as a right—on therapy unit for sensitive men. or even that it is driven by a political agenda. Thorne and Mackenzie are

‘My feeling was of having seen a show

with a sense of how different men and

women were, which made me feel sad.’ Jane Buckler

interested less in polemic than in exploration. and their use of female writers. employed as part of a long devising process. has been designed to push that exploration further. ‘The most productive processes have been when we‘ve worked with someone whose voice is from the outside.‘ says Thorne. ‘A woman is going to home in on a specific aspect of our sense of ourselves that we recognise but. as men. are likely to let lie.‘

Writer Jane Buckler explains that writing the text in response to the actors‘ ideas - rather than generating a script independently means she never felt like an outsider. "They brought their characters and what their characters were thinking. dreaming. hurting about.‘ she says. ‘lt swirled around like that and my job was to get these characters to talk to one another. My feeling was of having seen a show with a sense of how different men and women were. which made me feel sad. They try to get to a point where they can dream’ together but their dreaming is significantly different. It‘s like they‘re all in different hells and different heavensf

Heaven was praised on its pre-Christmas run in Cardiff for its intensity. imagination. humour and aggression. qualities perhaps to be seen again when Man Act return to 'l‘ramway in May with a work of a rather different texture. Called W) Want God Now. it‘ll be a large-scale techno- rave spectacle that will drop the socio-sexual analysis for nothing more complicated than a mesmeric display of ecstatic dancing. Preceded by Heaven‘s two—week run at the Tron. it will give Glasgow audiences the chance to see Man Act at their most intimate and their most exuberant.

Heaven, Man Act, Tran Theatre, Glasgow, Tue 30 szumjv—Stm ll February.

The List 26 Jan—8 Feb 199615‘