The nights are drawing in as we fall firmly into the grip of autumn and to light up our evening David Adkin & Panorama Productions bring Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men to the Southwark Playhouse, writes Christopher Peacock.
Written and initially produced in 2014, further productions by Steppenwolf Theatre and Marin Street theatre eventually led to a run on Broadway. Born out of Young Jean Lee’s discussions about straight white men with people of the LGBTQ+ community in New York, the show’s driving premise being that if privilege is problematic, what is the value of being a straight white man?
In previous productions, the pre-show included sexually explicit female rap, and you would be guided through it by a gender non-conforming stagehand-in-charge. This time music was from these shores in the form of grime artist Lioness and they chose to have two such persons-in-charge who were tasked with setting the scene and running the show. They also had brief appearances in between scenes, which I personally don’t feel added much.
The play itself is about three adult brothers being home with their dad Ed for Christmas. Each brother has a different outlook on life in modern society. Charlie Condou plays Matt who has moved back in with his dad with ambition and life seemingly on pause. Cary Crankson playing Drew, a writer with no novel, and Alex Mugnaioni as Jake, an ambitious banker, make up the trio.
The brothers try to help Matt work through what they deem might be his issues without ever getting to the bottom of any. The play’s climactic finish is where all the drama lies. The jockish joking and reminiscing of the first few scenes help lay the foundation for their relationships as siblings, but it is the final scene where they all get to say their truth.
The strongest performances came from Mugnaioni as Jake, a man who is well aware of his privilege and still utilises it to progress his career, and Condou playing a man a mere shadow of his much hyped and lauded younger self. The play’s strength comes from the knowledge the three boys have been raised with self-awareness and an understanding of privilege.
In 2014 we were getting to grips with the notion that toxic masculinity plagues straight white men. Thankfully, since then we have been moving into a space where men can open up and show empathy freely without judgement. That said, we still have further to go in a world where we all, even straight white men, can be our authentic selves.
Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD until December 3rd. Times: 8pm, matinees 3pm. Admission: £22, £18.
Booking: 020 7407 0234 – https://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk