A Brief History of the Fragile Male Ego

Feb 3 2022 | By More

★★★☆☆      History reduced

Assembly Roxy Online: Sun 30 Jan – Sun 6 Feb 2022
Review by Tom Ralphs

Multi award-winning feminist theatre company Jordan & Skinner has reimagined its 2019 Edinburgh Fringe hit, A Brief History of the Fragile Male Ego, turning it into a zoom style lecture that is available for home streaming through various platforms throughout February.

Billed as an irreverent performance lecture that takes audiences on a journey through time and space on a quest to liberate the men of history who have struggled under the burden of their fragile male ego, it is a sardonic look at masculinity that aims to deconstruct what it refers to as the current perceived crisis in masculinity.

Melanie Jordan

Andrea (Melanie Jordan) is the presenter of the talk that forms the majority of the show. Ahead of this there is a clip of her packing items into a box marked ‘dad’s stuff’ which she then uses as costumes and props for her presentation. Later on in there are further clips in the house the stuff came from, where a man sits in a chair in her memories at least. It’s a framing device for the presentation that provides context to it.

The presentation is delivered in a nervous fashion as Andrea attempts forced jollity while trying her best to appear to be on the side of men and the need to understand and accept their fragile egos. It’s a knowing irony that works to further emphasise the ludicrousness of the positions she’s defending.

a line through history

Defining figures of masculinity past and present are portrayed by Andrea and supported by backdrops created by videographer Rob Jones. As she runs through Sigmund Freud, Poseidon, Julius Caesar, William Wallace and Jose Mourinho, she draws a line through history that unites them while also reducing them to catchphrases that strip aside everything else and reduce them to what could be seen as the essence of masculinity.

Melanie Jordan

It’s simplistic in its analysis and its presentation of the characters, only developing beyond the stereotypes with the final depiction of a Jack the Lad cockney wide boy. After going through a series of old songs, phrases, jokes and stereotypical views that recall 70s sitcoms or Met police chatrooms, the monologue moves on to show a life falling apart, potentially the result of the crisis in masculinity that Andrea is trying to persuade her audience to understand.

dangerous mainstream notions

There is a real poignancy here, but the extent to which that’s intentional or another example of how Jordan and co-creator and director Caitlin Skinner believe the so-called crisis is perceived and presented is hard to tell. The closing scene seems to suggest that male mental illness is something women are expected to prevent and made to feel guilty about when they don’t. It is possibly taking the satire too far to conflate suicide and the effects of toxic masculinity and turn the former into a subset of the latter.

By taking legitimate targets both in terms of well known figures and outdated attitudes, the show undoubtedly shines a light on dangerous mainstream notions of masculinity but at the same time it is painting with too broad a brush, reducing everything to the behaviours of the straw men caricatures and leading to generalisations that run the risk of becoming as one-dimensional as the behaviour they are critiquing.

Running time: 50 minutes (no interval)

Assembly Roxy Online
Sun 30 Jan – Sun 6 Feb 2022
Tickets and details: Book here

Dumfries and Galloway Arts Festival
County Buildings, Wigtown, Newton Stewart DG8 9JH
In person film: Mon 7 Feb: 7.30pm.
Online, on demand: Tue 8 Feb 7.30pm – Tue 15 Feb 7.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here

Eastgate Theatre and Arts Centre, Eastgate, Peebles, EH45 8AD
In person film: Fri 18 Feb: 7.30pm.
Online, on demand: Sat 19 Feb 10am – Fri 25 Feb 10pm.
Tickets and details: Book here

Our review of the in-person live production at EdFringe 2019 is here: ★★★★☆ Thought-provoking.

Melanie Jordan


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