It’s not too difficult these days to find theatre about the challenges faced throughout womanhood. Sexual harassment, politics, time-ticking biology, equality or inequality of opportunity; It’s all there in period costume at the Lyceum, right now. What’s harder to find is theatre about the challenges that come with being a man. Yet this is just what Jordan & Skinner have done in A Brief History of the Fragile Ego. Or have they?
Armed with a blackboard and an overhead projector (who remembers those?), the mildly anxious Andrea (Melanie Jordan) presents a lecture on the male ego for the Society of Men’s Universal Truth (SMUT). Andrea may be anxious but she’s also as versatile as you like.
To explain the ego and its particular fragility in men, she is Freud, complete with accent and a battered top hat. A catalogue of other great men follow: gods (Poseidon brandishing his trident), legends in laurels, warrior heroes, cheeky chappy Jack the lads, and a special football manager for good measure. All bemoan a world without compassion; a world where they’re misunderstood. It’s a world where women don’t seem to want to celebrate their success. Even more nightmarish, a world where women succeed.
Heat-seeking-missile quick, Jordan bundles the misunderstanding into a brilliant and beautiful penny analogy that shines a coppery light on the plight of the modern day man. He’s a victim of his own ego in an economy that no longer suits him, living in a society with outdated expectations and a world that assumes he will suffer in silence.
Directed by Caitlin Skinner, it’s a brilliantly clever show that seduces you slowly, rather more artfully than the god of the sea. All the bluster, bravado, boisterous antics and bellicose buffoonery is wry, witty, yet never pantomime. Jordan is a cracking performer, strutting through egos at a breakneck pace, adroitly involving the audience, and somehow winning us round in the end to feel all sorts of sympathy for anxious Andrea. We even find ourselves cheering for her when she whips her baton out to a glorious musical accompaniment.
Lights accentuate the ludicrous disco moves, and whoever picked out the soundtrack for each of our ‘superheroes’ must have had a ball. Jordan & Skinner describe themselves as a feminist theatre company, but between the capybara and the crème de menthe, they do a pretty good job of drawing attention to the fact that the male ego is just as fragile too.