Theatre review: new play pulls no punches exploring young men’s frustrations

Renaissance Men is a new play by the Bag of Beard theatre group that seeks to explore toxic masculinity.

I caught it at the The Old Red Lion theatre, a small venue above a large pub near Angel Islington tube station.

The theatre has an immersive feel with the benches of audience members sandwiched around the floor-level stage.

Having squeezed my way into the last spot on the front row I felt almost part of the production as the action was within touching distance.

That meant the opening scene of a writer masturbating over his more titillating pieces felt surprisingly close.

The play follows three close-knit aspiring creatives: an introverted writer who does nothing but write, a hard-drinking painter who never seems to paint and their savvy but pompous friend with an eye for a bargain and an appreciation for fine art.

The play aims to tell us the frustrations of young men whilst also recounting a story about a lost masterpiece found in a charity shop in Streatham.

From the start all three are strikingly flawed with few redeemable features but as we grow accustomed to their interactions we begin to see how they easily hurt each other, how they want to but can’t talk to each other and ultimately how they need each other.

It was very reminiscent of the film Withnail and I, where struggling actors who live in squalor and poverty manage to scrabble enough money to drink themselves out of their wits.

There is a nice interplay with the lost masterpiece which the audience never gets to see, keeping us guessing its real value.

It takes a fourth character to enter their strange world and reveal their fragility, their inexperience and their naive aspirations.

The piece has energy, verve and pace and the laughs came thick and fast.

There was a tumbling, careering nature that slowed as the play moved on and adopted dark undertones, with one particularly menacing moment causing my neighbour to shriek.

You can see the influence of Harold Pinter in their performance and it has the feel of one of his two-handers, with a light-hearted back and forth that takes on a threatening nature.

Bag of Beard theatre group – Sam Heron, Alexander Knott, James Demaine  and Jack Gogarty  all pictured above – captures the way young men banter, hurl insults and try to dominate a situation which makes the more human side of each character more poignant.

See https://www.bagofbeard.co.uk for more information.

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