We begin early in the morning, when several men are getting out of bed. Floating around the media all around them - through the televisions they walk past, from the radio playing in the background - is the news of private Drummer Lee Rigby, who was murdered outside the Royal Artillery Barracks by two British-Muslim men. They have murdered Lee Rigby, they claim, in retaliation for the extremist war that Britain has started.
What makes this show so powerful is in how it shows that our collective stride towards a freer modernity still renders the lives of all men incredibly difficult.
The play opens with a gay man, seemingly happy in a relationship, who decides to kill himself. His lover and father who are left behind try to make sense of this suicide as they live on. Meanwhile, an old, retired ex-serviceman lives out his life in the wake of his wife’s death; a young school boy, in love with punk rock, revels in the graphic porn images readily at hand on his phone.
What lies underneath these men is a sense of confusion - with modernity, technology, and with the progressiveness that they feel society is suffocating them with. Old men feel like they are left behind, unable to find happiness as they struggle to reconcile their hard-held and antiquated values with the modern social climate. The play reaches its climax on Christmas Eve of 2013, when the main characters cannot find their feet on the ground amongst the overwhelming sounds and images of people being happy, of embracing joy and liberalism. A cross-dressing man is dressed as an angel, revelling in his own freedom and happiness while an older man watches on, with an accentuated sense of loneliness.
But the play is not a piece that solely laments the alienation of older generations. The young boy, basking in a sense of freedom as he readily accesses violent images on his phone, wanders around town aimlessly and the audience feels uneasy watching his day progress. It is not only the old who are being alienated, crippled with a sense of uncertainty. The children also swirl in a nebulous lack of stability.
Ultimately, being a member of the current generation - the progressive people who have forged the current zeitgeist - have it no easier wading through life. What makes this show so powerful is in how it shows that our collective stride towards a freer modernity still renders the lives of all men incredibly difficult.
Chris Goode, who has written and performs this monologue, has won his fourth Fringe First award. Though the various narratives feel disorienting and disparate for its first half, Men in the Cities develops into an extremely powerful rumination that unpicks the complexity and difficulty of figuring out our identities, masculinities and ethical standpoints in the contemporary world.