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Gaming Events 2019 - Review: lionman (Dapertutto Theatre, GM Fringe) - infogaming7.blogspot.com

Sunday 22 July 2018
Footlights House, Media City

Just two more Greater Manchester Fringe shows left for me this year – which is a shame, as I’ve really been enjoying my little wander through this year’s programme. The penultimate show on my schedule was lionman, a new piece of physical theatre devised by Dapertutto Theatre.


lionman’s press release promised a ‘surreal’ and ‘dystopian’ world, and a performance that would ‘explore masculinity’ and ‘what it means to be a man’. To greater or lesser extent, the production did do all of these things – though not necessarily in the way I’d expected.

The play begins with a montage of TV and film clips playing on an old TV set in a sparsely furnished bedroom. These were pretty varied – I caught glimpses of Bruce Lee and Arnold Schwarzenegger (I think), but also clips of sitcoms like Frasier. All this is interrupted by the arrival of a masked (well, more faceless) figure on stage, who silently produces a small plastic lion, holds it aloft, and then hides it in the drawer of a filing cabinet.

So the ‘surreal’ box is ticked pretty quickly. What about the dystopia?

As the masked figure leaves, the audience becomes aware of a mound of covers on the small fold-out bed in the room. But then the covers move, and we realize that there’s actually someone in there. This is our introduction – and a very impressive introduction – to the physical theatre style of the show. More than that, it introduces the company’s grounding in the aesthetics of theatrical biomechanics (which is highlighted on their website). As an actor’s body began to emerge from a space where there had seemingly been no body before, it was clear that this piece would be offering something very interesting.

The body that appears is that of Leonard (played by Tom Hardman), a lonely and struggling writer who lives alone in the aforementioned sparse bedroom. Leonard is attempting to write a significant piece of fiction, though his bread-and-butter work is that of writing verses for greetings cards. After a physical sequence in which Hardman dresses and makes an attempt at breakfast, Leonard finally sits at a typewriter to pen his masterwork – but, of course, he is interrupted in this task by a number of incidents.

The design and aesthetics of the set – and of Leonard’s appearance – certainly conjure up dystopian precursors. Leonard listens in to his neighbours’ conversations by means of a large silver duct, and this, along with the vaguely bureaucratic feel to his typewriter and small desk, is a nod to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and possibly also to some of Philip K. Dick’s short stories. There’s also a noir-ish feel to the production design, which heightens this vaguely dystopian aesthetic.

However, I’m not fully convinced that this is a dystopian world. The things that disturb Leonard’s work are all rather mundane and… well… topian. A neighbour plays loud music, causing Leonard to lose his patience and bang on the floor. Another neighbour – the object of Leonard’s unrequired desires – gets into an argument with someone and is reduced to tears. The landlady comes by with a demand for rent and the threat of severe consequences.

While none of these incidents really suggest a dystopian society, the way in which they are presented points to a certain absurdist narrative that enhances – and is enhanced by – the performance style and composition. For example, Leonard’s complaint about his neighbour’s music leads to a confrontation when the man angrily arrives at Leonard’s door. This confrontation becomes a stylised and carefully choreographed fight sequence between Hardman’s Leonard and the unnamed neighbour (played, like every other figure we see on stage, by Cameron Jones). When the fight is over, the actors ‘rewind’ the action (an impressive piece of performance in itself), so that Leonard can rerun the situation to reach a better outcome.


While Hardman is the person we see on stage continuously, Jones appears and disappears in numerous guises, sometimes seeming to change almost instantaneously from one ‘character’ to another. (I’ve put ‘character’ in inverted commas, because this doesn’t really do justice to Jones’s appearances – while he sometimes embodies a character in the more traditional sense, like the angry neighbour, many of his appearances involve manipulation of props to create puppet-like creations, like the fantasy version of Leonard’s female neighbour that is conjured on stage through the movement of a raincoat.) Both actors reveal incredible performance skills, with no marks or beats missed and no actions mistimed.

The technical design of the show is also very accomplished. Both the visual design and lighting (by Leon Hardman) and the sound design (by Kris W. Laudrum) are stylishly effective. The climactic sequence that follows Leonard’s discovery of what has been hidden in his filing cabinet is really stunning, with all elements (physical performance, staging, sound and lighting) coming together to create a really extraordinary set-piece.

That said, there are moments in the play where this performance style and technique threaten to overwhelm. I am not a fan of slapstick – not even exquisitely choreographed slapstick – and so Leonard’s comedic mishaps with a coat stand as he tried to get dressed were a little grating for me. While not as overtly comedic, the fight sequence between Leonard and his neighbour is perhaps also a bit overdone. It’s certainly accomplished, but it seems to serve more to showcase performance technique than offer any real narrative development.

Ultimately, lionman offers an unusual, absurd and surreal take on the story of a man’s thwarted ambitions and desires. Dystopian in aesthetic and atmosphere, if not in social or political terms, this is a stylish and arresting piece of theatre. I’m not sure it really explores what it means ‘to be a man’, but it’s certainly a visually compelling and flawlessly performed representation of one particular man.

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