The title for Esther Manito’s show, #NotAllMen, derives unsurprisingly from a conversation she saw on Twitter. Yet unlike that tribal social platform, where thoughts are boiled down into a certain character count, Manito’s show is full of nuance, unpacking the numerous shades of toxic masculinity and the Western world’s hypocrisy towards it.
Without giving too much away – this is, after all, a biographical show – Manito recounts her experience growing up in Essex to her Lebanese father and her mother from Gateshead. (There is a rather touching story about how they both met – but again, spoilers…).
Specifically, we’re taken to the 90s, where Danny Dyer is an agony uncle for the lad mag Zoo and the most prominent form of expression for young boys was cock-and-ball graffiti at school.
It’s a world we’re all familiar with too, and Manito’s confident, playful interaction with the audience does a sure-fire job to make sure that, regardless of age, everyone in the room has something to relate to. This was even true on the middle Sunday performance, which are typically hard to stir audiences into life – either from their weariness or hangovers.
One thing that helps is the fact it’s very hard not to like Esther. She tells her tale with a salt-of-the-earth manner and punchy delivery, conveying her experiences as both daughter, wife and mother, observing the changing social dynamics through three different generations. Her background also gives her personal grounds to note the cultural differences and judgments between the West and the “Middle East” – a term which itself, Manito points out, derives from a lazy Western idea of somewhere that’s just the middle between the West and India.
And that’s the place where this show really shines and feels, in fact, like a breath of fresh air. It’s scathing without being overly gloomy, critical of society and self-deprecating, doesn’t pull punches but never punches down. In short, through the personal, it treads the nuance of gender, political and other global debates with aplomb.
And, of course, it’s deeply funny. We laugh with Esther, who’s laughing at us for who we are and the kind of absurd world we’ve constructed.
As is becoming increasingly necessary, this show is a reminder that nuance needn’t be deemed flimsy. In an age where people want easy answers to life’s problems contained within a simple hashtag, #NotAllMen is a #MustSee.