The Man at Edinburgh Fringe 2019: Hilarious and poignant
This is not a faultless show. No show is. But the glare of the brilliance here blurs out any faults that might be there, making this one of the most hilarious and poignant shows at this year’s fringe.
Previously, ‘The Man’ himself, UCL alumnus Patrick McPherson, performed with Zac Peel. Their sketch saga, ‘Camels’, had sell-out runs at the Fringe. Their successes culminated in an epic final performance of ‘Camels IV’ at The Tabernacle in Notting Hill, a stage normally reserved for the likes of Frankie Boyle.
Now, circularly back in Edinburgh, he awaits on stage. Alone. Sitting. And swiping through Tinder?
He introduces himself as Guy, the host of a competition to be ‘The Man’. Guy explains that you, the audience, have made it to the final round but still have some lessons to learn before you can be considered for this gender role.
Guy epitomises the masculine form: he boasts about his exterior looks whilst failing to acknowledge that he has an interior life. As host, he guides the audience on a historical tour of manliness, introduces them to the tenants of modern manhood (incl. aggression and alcohol) and leads them into a grand finale that is as uncomfortable as it is true. Besides minor sketch bits and himself, McPherson’s other major character is that of Emmanuel, the workshop instructor. Emmanuel is presented as the oxymoron of Guy. He has a high-pitched tone, focuses on fashion to the exclusion of substance and is as camp as a row of tents. The tie between the workshop passages and the overall message of the show is less tight than those of other sketches, but the humour of it all never lacks. Cleverly, it soon becomes clear that Emmanuel and Guy are not so unalike. Both demonstrate a domineering and self-possessed nature that is typical of toxic masculinity. McPherson is presenting both as brutal critiques of himself. In this sense, the entire show, professionally performed and expertly written by McPherson, is saturated with layers of vulnerability.
The most ostensibly unguarded moments of the play are found in McPherson’s impressions of himself. Or at least, a specifically contextualised version of himself. You see him in therapy. He compares his attempts to combat his internal torments to him trying to blow out a forest fire with the strength of breath that can barely temper a birthday candle. He cries; but unlike Guy, he does not cry with tearless tears (his acting here does not feel like an act). Continuing this tone, emotive and ultimately momentous, McPherson ends the show in a breathtakingly beautiful fashion that shouldn’t be spoiled.
‘The Man’ is directed by James Lane and Matt Jones, it runs until August 26th.