Issue-sensitive readers need have no concerns: this show’s striking title is not a misogynist one. When poet Jonny Fluffypunk talks about “manning up”, he means in essence growing up: becoming a father, a role model, a shaper of the generation to come. And through his deceptively ramshackle act, which takes liberties and plays self-referential tricks with our expectations of its own form, Fluffypunk explores the changing nature of fatherhood – alongside the increasing obsolescence of generations-old skills in our fast-moving digital age.
The story begins with Jonny’s own childhood, as a nostalgic memory of his dad’s garden shed segues into a horrifying vision of authoritarian vengeance. Told in verse, this story is actually one of the few out-and-out poems to be found in Fluffypunk’s show; in the main, he gives us a reflective monologue, an exchange of views between a thoughtful man and an equally thoughtful audience. As though eager to show he trusts us, Fluffypunk even reveals his plans for the show in advance, in the form of a nautical chart – a map illustrating how we’ll be plotting our course among the hidden reefs of this unquestionably rocky topic.
There are some thought-provoking insights along the way. I was struck, in particular, by the theme of disempowerment: the idea that the modern world, with its too-complex gadgets and impossible intellectual demands, makes it harder to be a hero in the eyes of your family. And that notion of heroism is further explored through a series of photographs, pinned to the backdrop and gradually unveiled as the show proceeds. The first couple of images are recognisable ones – Captain Webb, Ernest Shackleton – but Fluffypunk’s later choices are more obscure, helping tease out some of his thoughts about the nature of manhood today.
This is an intelligent show, and a highly self-aware one – sometimes, perhaps, to a fault. At one point it even declares itself Brechtian. That’s not entirely serious, but if we’re going to view it as a piece of theatre, then I must wag a stern finger at the quantity of bald exposition. Perhaps it betrays a slight lack of confidence; Fluffypunk’s themes do come through his narrative loud and clear, so he could afford to let us discover them for ourselves.
And to be fair, that’s exactly what we’re left to do towards the end, when Fluffypunk abandons his map and begins to deconstruct the very nature of his monologue. He tells us that he’s lying, because that’s what all performers do; yet there’s a searingly honest ring to his conclusions. He has no great moral to end on – in another modern twist, the finale is crowd-sourced from his audience – but for once, an uncertain conclusion seems both necessary and right. There are no easy answers to the questions Fluffypunk poses… but he’s left me with plenty to reflect on.