Does life make you want to hit something? Love Thy Monster, the new work from British writer Joe Sellman-Leava, is a solo play addressing the topics of anger, violence, and the complicated construct of modern masculinity.
In a strange quirk of fate, the show’s only public performance before it makes its premier at this year’s Fringe World was on the evening of London’s Women’s March in January. A number of audience members came straight from waving placards to the preview at Islington’s Pleasance Theatre.
“People said they spent the day protesting these things and standing up for the fact that we thought we’d all come a long way since those times,” says Sellman-Leava. “That was slightly surreal.”
Current world politics have made the show’s examination of “manhood” even more relevant.
“Seeing the leader of the – quote – free world as that person who has said those things and done those things, what does that tell the next generation of kids about gender, and violence, and what’s okay in terms of how they treat each other?” says Sellman-Leava.
The piece, presented by Worklight Theatre, references various sources including cultural icons Mike Tyson and Patrick Stewart. Although Tyson and Stewart came from similar backgrounds – both came from poor and violent family homes – Sellman-Leava says each man’s perspectives on violence and anger are almost binary.
“Even though Tyson considers himself reflective and wise, he still has incredibly troubling attitudes to women, and that comes across very clearly in his language which has not tempered at all over the years, even though he thinks it has,” says Sellman-Leava.
“And yet Stewart, for years, has been this huge advocate and patron for refuges and related courses. I think they’re incredibly interesting because they’re almost two sides of the same coin.”
Shakespearean language is incorporated courtesy of Othello, another play that broaches the taboo issue of sensitive violence (spoiler alert: the lead character kills his wife).
Onstage, vulnerability is addressed and more traditional associations of masculinity, such as aggression and conflict, are challenged. The work presents a series of moments that examine what happens when the red mist descends and what men do in those few seconds when they are most at risk of lashing out.
In addition to debuting Love Thy Monster in Perth, Sellman-Leava will also be performing Labels at this year’s Fringe. A sold-out show at last year’s festival, the award-winning work focussing on immigration and racism returns for two performances. Emma Thompson, the British actress that led the racism and equality workshop that inspired the work, has hailed Labels as “powerful, important, and funny”.
Love Thy Monster is showing January 31 to February 4 at The Blue Room Theatre (53 James Street, Northbridge). Tickets from $19 and available online.
Labels is showing January 28 and February 4 at the same venue. Tickets start from $23 and are available online.