Many Good Men

Feb 9 2024 | By | Reply More

★★★★☆     Troubling

Tynecastle Stadium: Thurs 8 – Fri 9, Mon 26 – Tues 27 Feb 24
Review by Hugh Simpson

Many Good Men, from Civic Digits, Stellar Quines and Stories Untold at Heart of Midlothian’s Tynecastle Stadium, is an urgent and timely production, hard-hitting yet sympathetic.

Two separate versions of this exploration of ‘incel’ culture have been co-written with writer-director Clare Duffy by two single sex groups of young people, with this being the young women’s play (the young men’s play will follow at the end of February).

Anthony O’Neil and Jaden Baker with Gavin Crichton and Chinedu Igu in Civic Digits’ Many Good Men. Pic: Chi Wai Cheung

‘Incels’ or ‘involuntary celebates’ are members of the online community of young males unable to find partners that has become a focus for misogyny and hatred. The anxieties felt by many boys about being constantly told to be ‘men’ without any clear idea what that entails have come further into focus since the arrest of Andrew Tate, whose views are endorsed by a small but significant minority.

The internet can certainly help people find a community, but not always in a positive way. Young people can see things they are not prepared for, and there is always the potential for radicalisation and grooming, as is shown here. Two young footballers witness an atrocity, which leads one of them to explore the views of incels and disappear down the online rabbit hole into a world of Matrix-derived conspiracy theories and hatred.

The positive sides of technology are, however, shown in the way the production blends digital technology with live performance. The digital elements never overshadow the human performers, however, with the acting being raw, immediate and having considerable emotional pull.

strong role models

The football club setting is an apt one; footballers are very strong role models for young men, and often have a considerable platform, but exist in an environment that can be isolated and often overly ‘laddish’. Anthony O’Neil, as the goalkeeper whose injury leaves him frustrated and with no outlet for his energy, turns in a compelling performance, with his downward trajectory all too believable.

Chinedu Igu, as his team-mate, is also thoroughly compelling, with Jaden Baker showing commendable versatility in a variety of roles.

Jaden Baker and Anthony O’Neil in Civic Digits’ Many Good Men. Pic: Chi Wai Cheung.

The young writers, and co-writer/director Clare Duffy, must be congratulated on producing a piece that is extremely well structured and utterly convincing. It is certainly thought-provoking, not to say troubling, but the educational aspects of it never overwhelm its dramatic impact. There is the odd moment (such as an occasional football reference) that does not ring true, but the rest of it is completely authentic, to a degree that can approach the painful.

Before the show starts we are bombarded with notoriously sexist songs and images from Love Island, but much of what follows (although it certainly pulls no punches) is much more three-dimensional, for example subtly pointing out that misogynistic pop lyrics are not exactly a new phenomenon.

Not everything works; although various parts of the stadium are well used, there seems little point in leading the audience up the steps of the Wheatfield Stand in the cold and rain just to have a short discussion. On a less forbidding evening, however, this would be more welcome, and Hearts should certainly be congratulated for their part in the play’s creation.

interactive elements

The ‘interactive’ elements are also not always successful. When the audience are given phones to influence various points in the narrative, not enough instruction is given. When one of two online videos is to be selected, there is no time to consider anything except (understandably) hitting the button that doesn’t feature the name of Tate or Jordan Peterson. Perhaps this accurately reflects the nature of the online experience, but it seems unsatisfactory, and it is unclear how much the audience’s choices are actually affecting the performance.

The more truly interactive element at the production’s end is much more impressive, and handled with great delicacy by Gavin Crichton (credited as dramaturg as well as acting with distinction). This segment is pivotal to making the audience reflect on the characters’ choices without reducing things to easy solutions.

Which could be said of the whole production, which deserves – and needs – to be seen by audiences both young and old. Tickets are being offered free to schools, youth groups and the community around Tynecastle, and those remaining should be snapped up.

Running time 1 hour 35 minutes (no interval)
Tynecastle Stadium, McLeod St, EH11 2LN
Thursday 8 and Monday 26 February 2024 at 2.00 pm & 5.30 pm; Friday 9 and Tuesday 27 February at 10.30 am
Information and tickets at https://civicdigits.com

Anthony O’Neil with Gavin Crichton, Chinedu Igu and Jaden Baker in Civic Digits’ Many Good Men. Pic: Chi Wai Cheung

ENDS

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