- Liam Rees
- 3 October 2018
An uneasy and provocative study of 'British' values
When Alister Lownie introduces Manpower by mansplaining about how to build a hi-fi system, the show appears to be an addition to the plethora of shows interrogating toxic masculinity and the males' apparent inability to talk about anything more profound than technology or DIY. Yet when Katherina Radeva's replaces Lownie's place on the soapbox, he is relegated to a hardworking yet distance presence, doing Man Things like building a house and operating the record player at the back of the stage, while she presents an alternative history lesson. What follows is a piece that examines masculinity but within the wider context of the arrival of neoliberal capitalism during the 1980s and the UK's relationship with Europe.
Radeva's clown-like, right-wing stage persona revels in hypocrisy, variously praising the traditional Man who works with his hands while pushing for more men to work in high-paying office jobs, explaining how wonderful it would be if there were more "Real Men" to build homes (so long as they're not Polish). It's a worldview and version of history totally at odds with the stereotypically leftie-leaning theatre audience, and Radeva's speeches revel in the irony in an Eastern European woman praising right-wing values that will result in her own deportation.
It's a frustrating intellectual workout that forces the audience to confront their own biases, with the text and tableaus full of complex images and ideas that refuse to cohese into a simple narrative. Unfortunately, towards the end it loses its nerve and settles for easier targets, making it feel preachy. Like the UK it describes, Manpower seems to struggle with what exactly it wants to be or wants to achieve.