Dynamic theatre company Rhum & Clay blew audiences away at Hove’s The Old Market last week with a daring venture into the culture of toxic masculinity. Testosterone is inspired by the true story of the show’s writer and lead actor Kit Redstone; walking into a men’s changing room for the first time at the age of 33, the transgender artist is confronted with the contradiction of navigating a masculine identity in opposition to the “glorious cancer” of patriarchy which he has been acutely aware of all of his life. What emerges is a queer biomythography that asks what does it mean to be a man in 21st century Britain?
A stripped back set and tightknit four-man cast together construct the archetypal changing room scene in all its simplicity and banality. Warped mirrors upstage emphasise their quest for self-actualisation, but also the mechanisms in society that confuse that process with their refractions and presuppositions.
Testosterone’s modest stylistics allow for the ambition of its content to shine through; we are faced with a show that is unrelentingly inquisitive, that’s scope and direction will only grow as time passes. Together the four characters journey through an amorphous landscape of identity, facing questions of the violence we assume is inherent to masculinity, of the fetishisation of androgyny, of the phallocentrism of gym culture that walks a steady path between hypermasculinity and homosexuality.
Image Credit: Richard Davenport
Redstone’s potent observations on society are hauled onto the stage kicking and screaming in all their loud energy and absurdity. Transphobic humour is reclaimed and turned on its head, as the show delves into the hilarity of heteronormative society. Gym nuts handle their protein shakes in inarguably masturbatory gestures. Their antics are excessive and overblown to the point they resemble ape-like wild beasts – the phenomenal physical theatre artistic directors and performers Julian Spooner and Matthew Wells offer is as funny as it is impressive. Again and again we as an audience are overwhelmed by the chemistry, dynamism and comradery that shines through what is – though in a way an intimate and personal story – at its heart an exploration of men as a community, and how they construct male identities and male spaces amongst themselves.
Drag, dance-theatre and a scattering of powerful soliloquies demonstrate Redstone’s and Rhum & Clay’s masterfully intelligent grasp of how contemporary theatre can operate within expansive new territories of cultural and political thought. Their astounding creativity, consistently informed by queer feminist theory and contemporary debates, smashes boundaries and asks questions in a manner that is so entertaining and energising, it had the whole audience on its feet.