London Theatre Review
Rite of Passage: "A man's life is never an easy path to try to traverse and even God’s infallibility doesn’t seem to extend him the courtesy of being a credible role model to his only son. In modernity, the pressure that men face has reached a boiling point."
As we continue to go through this life it becomes an essential part of a man's growth and understanding to have good guidance that will, we hope, allow us to grow into men.
Theatre KinAesthetic’s debut show, Rite of Passage, has at its heart a vulnerability that we as men are told never to show in public. There is a delicateness to way Theatre KinAesthetic approach their show without ever losing the sensitivity and sense of urgency that is at the heart of their story. Rarer still is the confidence and maturity that they show in being able to produce a sense of self that is ever so slightly restrained and guarded but still manages to leave them exposed.
Finlay McFarlane, Ashley G. Jones, and Jack Dorning - Theatre KinAesthetic - are stood on the stage holding identical brown boxes surrounded by similar brown boxes that are stacked behind them. They stand there in white long johns and shirts with classic 80s hit ‘So Macho’ playing as the audience take their seats.
With Rite of Passage Jones, McFarlane and Dorning explore the journey boys take to becoming men. What does it mean to be a man and when do you become a man? Is there a moment when you wake up and you’re all of a sudden a man? Or is it that moment like Jones offers when you realise you can’t hold your father's hand anymore. The path we take to becoming men is meant to result in a reward of sorts, being a man = success. From the banter in the pub to how we culturally overcompensate for our shortcomings be it size, hight, or build, is all part of this dance we do as we try to learn.
Masculinity, sexuality, mental health and the indelible role that fathers play in shaping their young sons into young men are intertwined with the emotional desire of three young men trying to find their place and discover who they are. They, like many other young men, are conflicted by the array of confusing messages, signs and images that profess to inform us on what it takes to be a man.
"It is times like this that men can find themselves alone, isolated and afraid to come out, talk and find help."
Each of their stand-alone monologues offers a perfect balance of honesty whilst trying to mask that honesty with humour. Over time the nervous laughter gives way to the audience connecting to the complexity of what Theatre KinAesthetic are doing. The pain and confusion feel real and the exposing of their worries is made powerful through the bond the three share.
Their mix of movement, music and monologues adds weight to the subjects that they discuss throughout the hour. Though they are clear in what they want to say they don't profess to have any concrete answers or solutions that become apparent as the show builds. In between each of their scenes, there is a gentleness produced from the three performers that give the audience a reassurance that this bond is real and helps maintain their authenticity.
A key theme throughout Rite of Passage is talking and the power that can be gained by talking to each other. This, much like many of the scenes that they create in the show, is one of mans greatest hurdles. Getting men to talk, really talk to each other, can be an impossible task and it is all to easily abandoned for the status quo.
This is powerfully realised early on in the piece by Jones who, after unfolding a series of pictures from men's health and fitness magazines, gives a scene that is wordless yet imaginatively effective. For the first part, the audience does chuckle and giggle at the slight farce being presented as Jones begins to build himself up by stuffing torn pieces of magazines in his shirt. However, this humour is short lived as we grow more aware of what is happening and by the time he wraps some worded tape around his waste the effect becomes heartbreaking.
Body dysmorphia is ‘a female thing’ and society seems to be unsure of how it deals with this issue when men are confronted by the illness. This can look like a lack of support, much like the way McFarlane discusses when describing labelling around sexuality. Responses usually being ‘but you're a man, men can’t be…’. It is times like this that men can find themselves alone, isolated and afraid to come out, talk and find help. And yet towards the end of show Dorning shows that a man's life can change for the better when he stops and allows himself the freedom to talk about what he’s feeling and what he’s going through.
Their stories form a tightly interconnected strand that is unbreakable and they all lead to the same inevitable conclusion. The care that Theatre KinAesthetic show towards each other during these scenes has allowed them to create a performance bond that is safe and unrestricted. Rite of Passage brings an important conversation to the theatre space that is long overdue and these three young men create a worthy and urgent show that is as touching as it is funny and relevant.