Words by: Freya Parr
Image credit: Xahlia Jeffcote & Desmond Tan
Brought to us by 610 Productions, Armour presents a group of four men, set in an isolated retreat in a Scout hut in the woods, finding their feelings through confronting one another’s histories and stories. The issue of men’s Depression and the need for men to explore their emotions is one that is coming into today’s society more and more, and I was really pleased that the Blue Room was enabling a performance like this to take place.
Upon entering the space, I was immediately cast back to my days as part of the Scouting federation. The level to detail in the staging was brilliant – so much so that my fellow theatre-going companion thought that we had actually entered a real Scout Hall, and was feeling a little underwhelmed at the lack of set she had expected from such a well-respected “theatre”! After some explanation, she understood, and was equally as impressed as me at the realistic nature of the space.
The characters were fairly black and white in terms of depth; a leader, a quasi-“rocker”, a young lad whose best friend had recently passed away, and a new member of the group, an ex-SAS member. I found the leader of the group to be incredibly patronising, and conformed to every stereotype of a leader of a group such as this. Even in the section where his history was explored, it all felt a little too forced to empathise with. This sentiment was echoed throughout the performance; I felt that the word “feelings” was thrown around way too often, and it all came across as a cliché. The portrayal of male groups merely conformed to every stereotype people hold, and why most men are hesitant to join. I felt that the stigma of addressing male emotion and psychology was not challenged enough.
There were moments where the characters would break into song, such as the introduction of “Danny Boy” after one of the men was talking about his son Danny, which was later changed into an edited rendition of “Tanner Boy”, addressed to the young man’s friend who passed away. This felt really awkward, and didn’t come across as realistic in any way, despite the attempts of the actors.
The original tension between characters was interesting, but all just felt too over-directed, and I was very aware of the fact that I was watching a production throughout, rather than finding myself lost in the action at any point. When the characters brought out items of Tanner’s clothing to use in their “reflection circle”, I momentarily cringed, because nothing felt natural. The fact that one singular shoe was used with a bottle inside was just not realistic, and took away from the performance, which was a real shame, because the actor who played Tanner’s friend did a fantastic job. His characterisation was superb, and he conveyed a more realistic transition throughout the piece. I was even more impressed upon seeing him after the show and realising that he and his character could not be any more different, which further improved his performance in hindsight.
Ultimately, I went with really high expectations to Armour, as the subject matter is something I’m fascinated in and have done a lot of study into, and I was really looking forward to a refreshing view of male groups, and how they can contribute to the destigmatisation of the sharing of masculine emotion and feeling. I felt it could have made a lot of men sit up and take note, and realise that the portrayal of men’s groups in the media and in society as a whole is not necessarily accurate. However, I found that the play simply followed all the stereotypes that exist about men’s groups, and although it showed the success of such groups, it conveyed too many clichés to be powerful on a dramatic scale. But go and make your own opinions, but the writing was all just a bit “much” for me.
Armour is on at the Blue Room until 9th May.