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The Man and Men
Published on Monday, 16 August 2010

2 stars

Hill Street Theatre (venue website)
5 - 30 Aug (not 10,17,23,24), 4.35pm (5.25pm)
Reviewed by Lee Zhuo Zhao

The Man and Men is an intriguing work of musical theatre. It's certainly not your run-of-the-mill opera, even by modern standards. Setting five original poems to avant-garde music, with a healthy amount of physical theatre thrown in, the composer explains in the programme that the overall theme is an investigation of masculinity, human loss and sexual identity.

Sadly, the end result approaches an incomprehensible mess. Days have passed since the performance, and I am still struggling to see what the physical theatre was trying to achieve. Most of the cast were hindered by the fact they had to remain playing their instruments, and it all descended into an exercise of finding more and more unconventional ways of doing this. For some reason, the singer was underused, so it was only the freely-moving percussionist that provided anything I could connect to.

The characters consist of 'The Man', a coloratura soprano, and 'The Men', five accompanying instrumentalists... and that's about everything I understood. I couldn't fathom why each of the 'Men' were given further names like 'The Power' or 'The Kingdom' and I didn't even begin looking for a plot.

When I first read the poems, one thing struck me the most: for an hour-long opera, there aren't a lot of words, a case of profundity through paucity. However, this minimalist approach was not reflected in the music. Frantic moments were not always matched by exciting passages of text and the score occasionally slipped from unconventional to annoying. On top of all this, the soprano was given a vicious part – the sort of music that if sung regularly for an extended period of time would case permanent damage to your voice.

But I'll try to end with some positives. The cast are thoroughly engrossing and committed to their roles, and even though I had no clue what was going on, I couldn't help but watch. It was also clear to me that each detail of the costumes, the movements around stage and the music were carefully considered and crafted.

It's just that, since there is no further dialogue, everything I got from The Man and Men came from reading the poems before the show, and noticing 'The Man' is played by a coloratura soprano. Her performance, as it happens, was the only thing I was thinking about on leaving the venue: she is fabulously gifted, but I really hope she saves her top notes for better material.

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These are archived reviews of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to those we've featured, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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