To the credit of the cast and crew, White Men has been pulled together under some pretty difficult circumstances – Zoom rehearsals, cast changes, cancellations – but the show doesn’t quite land for me. It might just be that my expectations, considering the cast, crew and content, are too high to begin with, but I keep waiting for more. Emma Katene and Sameena Zehra stand out for their vibrancy and distinct characterisations, but the overall show lacks the punch that it needs. On opening night, the performers do not bring the level of energy required to carry the show for 50 minutes, and because White Men is staged in a way that has the performers seated and separate for the majority of the time, that energy is really needed to compensate for the lack of physical dynamism. I really enjoy Abby Howells’s script and some of the things it jabs at (shout out to the “childbearing hips” joke and the all too accurate representation of the way men act in board meetings), but I would love to see it performed with a bit more oomph. This might emerge as the season progresses and the performers get more comfortable.
In terms of the design of the show, the costuming and make-up (Emma Stevens, Aimee Smith and Emma Katene) are effective. I particularly like how hyperbolic the white face paint is and how it alludes to other comedic theatre styles like, dare I say it, pantomime. I have mixed feelings about the set design. I am always a big fan of Lucas Neal’s work, and the wave sheets do fit well with the general exaggerated aesthetic. On one hand the set does a lot of heavy lifting to establish the hierarchy that is so important to the play, but it also hampers any opportunity for movement of physical interaction, which could have lifted the show if done well. We see this when a raft comes on stage and the performers have to climb over the set first before they can actually reach the raft to then fight over it. The set has really been designed to keep the performers in their boxes. This, paired with the level of energy in the performance, means that the pacing lags at times. Hopefully it will tighten up over the next few nights.
White Men is a ridiculous and honest piece of work, and it is the kind of content that lots of people need right now. It is so important to get out and support artists in any way that you can right now, so please do that. Congratulations to Red Scare for pulling this show together and selling out the season. For more information, please visit the Red Scare website.