The Institute of Nuts is the second theatrical venture from writer/director partnership Mark Daniels and Edwina Strobl. Following on from the success of last November’s locally-set N89, the exciting new duo have now produced a play that is equally comedic in its use of pop-culture references, but also adds a necessary political bite on the state of masculinity in 2019.
The play is showing at the Matchstick Piehouse theatre in Deptford (5 minute walk from New Cross station), which is an interesting new venue, having only opened its doors 9 months ago in the sweltering second-summer-of-discontent. Matchstick is a volunteer-led theatre and cabaret club that does well to not blend in with its neighbouring arches. As theatre-digs go it’s a pretty cosy setup; taxidermized foxes and freecycled junk leer at you from the walls, whilst local brew (Telegraph Hill Cider – £3.70) and the East London tradition, pie and mash, is served in the wings. There’s even a bleedin’ micro-library with cheap classics for sale! Cultural hub? You bet! Heated? Not a chance!
The performance takes place in the railway arch twinned to the bar area, and the stage is outlined by a circle of chairs where the audience can watch on in intimacy at the characters. The cast’s names have been discarded in place of letters, the meaning of which reveals itself as the play progresses into nightmarish hysteria. O, P and B are subjugated by the domineering M, whose own character is equally under the reign of E, a character that takes more than a pinch of salt from Orwell’s Big Brother.
The three inmates (O, P and B) find themselves in a sort of correctional facility, where they are forced to abide by the ‘othering’ laws of gender stereotypes to eventually obtain success in the outside world. “I am strong. I am powerful. I am the best.” is the neoliberal mantra they repeat to themselves (and to cardboard cut-outs of Phil Mitchell) during their military-style ‘lessons’.
The play is laden with subtle digs towards lad culture, alpha-male public figures (Simon Cowell, Skepta, Wayne Rooney), and the ignorance so often deployed by misinformed middle-aged politicians towards pronouns and sexual orientations. At one particularly revealing point in the play, M is confronted by P and asked why he doesn’t vocalize his very obvious homophobic views, to which M replies: “I’m not going to say it out loud but I’m allowed to think it.” – a dangerously honest remark considering the political turmoil Britain is currently enveloped in. Indeed, it is at these moments when the performances of Christian Andrews and Molly Ward are at their strongest; when they are questioning the authority of expectation, attempting to ‘un-think’ their prescribed stereotypes.
By depicting toxic masculinity at its ugliest, Daniels has written a play which in many ways needed to be written. Not only does he deal with the stereotyping of marginalised groups head-on, he also criticises the upbringing of pseudo-progressive families who endanger their child’s development by ‘refusing a girl a barbie doll’. Nobody should be forced to act in a way that contradicts with their own natural feelings, and this play does well to remind us of that.
The Institute of Nuts is running until April 12th. Buy tickets here.
Words, Edward Green – @nedgreen
Images, Oli Sones – @olisonesphoto