Review: WIMP

Amy Smith is enticed by an unnerving and touching performance that shines a light on masculinity

In her hit song If I were a Boy, Beyoncé trills: “I’d roll out of bed in the morning, and throw on what I wanted, and go drink beer with the guys.” Sure, it’s just a catchy pop song, but how far can women understand the intricacies of men beyond lazy stereotypes?

Director Raisa Breslava created WIMP after feeling compelled to explore and celebrate the “shamefully hidden sides of a man.” In the programme notes she describes her passion to understand the men she loves. She writes: “I want to relate deeply to a man and in order to do so I want to see more of him. I want to get to know his vulnerabilities, how he feels, what excites him and what shuts him down.”

This one-man show is performed with a gut-wrenching honesty by Vincent Manna. WIMP begins with a very masculine feat of physicality as Manna slowly and smoothly perfects a press-up while perched on a table. His experience with dance company Rambert and choreographer Matthew Bourne is instantly apparent. It’s the confident display of a man, who we witness slowly unwrap.
The character’s steady public face acts as narrator, a 40-year-old who’s trying to survive the loneliness of a long-distance relationship. But we are exposed in turn to his many sides: an angry man, a cripplingly anxious man, a virulent man, a jealous man and a naive, trusting man.

“Performed with a gut-wrenching honesty we are exposed in turn to his many sides: an angry man, a cripplingly anxious man, a virulent man, a jealous man and a naive, trusting man”

The audience is seated in two semicircles in the stunning Asylum chapel in South London, and it makes for an intimate gathering. Manna takes full advantage of our proximity, talking and interacting directly with the audience. The space is in the middle of early 18th century almshouses that, despite the ‘Asylum’ moniker, were homes for retired pub landlords. The chapel has itself long been retired and never fully recovered structurally from WW2 bomb damage. A word of warning: wear warm clothes as it does get chilly.

The set design is sparse but the atmospheric venue needs little dressing or fancy set pieces and designer Bianca Turner responds with a delicate touch. A congregation of translucent balloons appear caught in mid air at the pulpit, small lights twinkling beneath. And the musical score from Jamie Catto, a founding member of Faithless and co-creator of the film 1 Giant Leap, performs its own dance with Manna. This marriage is especially effective in the touching finale.

It is truly frightening when Manna first exposes his insecure self, bending and jerking with Ian Curtis style-spasms. And as with the Joy Division frontman, he is utterly watchable. The speed with which Manna switches between characters is both impressive and unnerving. We are also introduced to a posturing, violent, peacocking man who struts and thrusts around the space. It’s rather delicious when Manna uses every inch of his body to bellow “cunt”. In turn frightening and hilarious, his cocky self moves through a throng of partygoers (represented by the balloons), feeding them ludicrous chat-up lines, at one point straddling two balloons – twins – grinding against them both.

Admittedly a personal peeve, the baby-voice chatter Manna used when portraying childhood memories and the ever-present inner child, grated and took a while to warm to. But the actor’s utter commitment to his role was powerful. A balloon – that a moment ago was a metal detector – becomes a living and breathing girlfriend. And suddenly he has her in a headlock. It’s hard not to wince as he repeatedly, and menacingly, applies pressure on ‘her’.

It takes a great bravery to expose the extremes of ourselves, those facets that are universal and yet universally hidden. An assured debut from Breslava, WIMP is a compassionate and urgent dissection of masculinity. Must-see.

WIMP runs until 22nd September at the Asylum, Caroline Garden’s Chapel, London, SE15 2SQ. Show time: 7pm. Matinee on 22nd September at 2pm. Tickets £10/£7. Age restriction: 16  wimptheatre.com

Read it and don’t weep.

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