Nick Gilbert takes the role of a TV game show host as he explores the issues of masculinity in his new show at Greenwich Theatre Studio from 12-14 April.
Mr Brightside looks out at what it means to be a man in the 21st century.
The idea came to Nick from working in a theatre company – The Human Zoo; now ZooCo – with three women. “Having worked with the company for about four years, we had a workshop where the facilitator asked me what it was like to be the only male at the core of the company,” said Nick, Greenwich Theatre’s latest supported artist.
“I had never thought about it before. I had never really considered gender or that it might be affecting our relationships or our work together. They had all been my friends for years. But the more I looked into it and talked about it with both men and women it was interesting to see how gender was at play all the time.
“Most of us, as soon as we are assigned our gender at birth, are then probably raised a certain way and treated a certain way by everyone we meet. This then affects how we act in the world and the things we do.
“I suppose, because I was working in theatre, it was kind of an automatic thought that maybe there was a show in it. There’s been loads of great theatre and art on gender and masculinity before so it felt like really exciting stuff to look into and find new territory to explore onstage.
“At the beginning I really didn’t want the show to be about me at all. As a white middle-class man who hasn’t had a particularly remarkable life I didn’t think I had much to offer to it personally.”
However, during a period of research and development at Greenwich Theatre, Nick and his supporters realised that probably men like him, who “seem pretty normal” and have an awareness of feminism and LGBTQ+ issues, are actually interesting because of the “nuanced stuff” going on.
“So then it became more personal,” said Nick, “and there was a lot of being prodded and poked by the other people in the rehearsal room in order to open up. I’ve always loved the song Mr Brightside by The Killers and that came up during rehearsals.
“We suddenly thought how great a character Mr Brightside could be so we explored that and it gradually turned into this game show host who is basically like an extension of myself.
“There are some interesting similarities between the traits that are often assumed of men and also the things we expect from performers. Things like confidence, reliability, skill and knowledge.
“It’s been fun playing with the way these expected traits are paralleled between Mr Brightside as the host of the game show, me as a performer in the show and me as a man, as well as men in general and in the audience.”
Nick is intending to bring a degree of audience to interaction to the production, something that has been developing in rehearsal. “We are still playing with this. The audience becomes the studio audience for Mr Brightside’s TV show and they will get involved with some weird games but there is also space for more meaningful conversations with the audience members.
“Despite the show being more personal to me there is also a load of verbatim recordings from other people and opportunity for the audience to offer thoughts and ideas to the mix, which will hopefully inform what happens on stage.”
“There is nothing self indulgent about this piece at all” said James Haddrell, Greenwich Theatre’s artistic director. “Theatre can be cathartic, can offer a tool for self-analysis, and can be very rewarding to make, but autobiographical theatre can occasionally become more about the performer than the audience. In this case, Nick has interviewed a wide range of men about their experiences and has woven their thoughts, some directly as audio recordings, into the show. Far from being inward looking, Mr Brightside looks out at what it means to be a man in the 21st century.”
“The character of Mr Brightside is someone who probably fits into the New Age man idea rather than necessarily being a really traditional man” continued Gilbert. “He’s more open to being sensitive and clued up on certain things, but it’s like he’s kind of plateaued and needs to keep moving forward. I think this echoes where a lot of men might be now.”