What makes someone a man?
Is it being a father?
Being a son?
The ability to fight?
Or to play?
Square Go, a new play by Kieran Hurley and Gary McNair, directed by Finn den Hertog, follows two Scottish schoolboys in the hour before one of them takes on the biggest school bully in a fight. In that hour, Scott Fletcher and Gavin Wright move and play around each other. Max and Stevie are maybe 12 years old – tense and unsure in their bodies but quick witted and intelligent. They are awkward and gangly, legs too big for their bodies and shoulders up beside their ears. They adopt the posturing learnt from their fathers and brothers – an attempt at being macho, at manning up.
The Roundabout becomes a boxing ring, a boy’s loo, a playground. Finn Den Hertog’s direction utilises the Roundabout’s versatility as well as its limitations – the actors jump on and around the audience, bringing people on stage and pointing them out to each other. We are Max’s imagined crowd, cheering on the underdog as he embarks on his quest into manhood. Frightened Rabbit’s music underscores the show with a fizzling intensity and Peter Small’s lighting basks the boys in pinks and blues and reds. What begins as a testosterone-filled hour of quips and digs turns into a delicate exploration of going from boy to man, and what that even means.
I wouldn’t know what boys talk about behind closed doors but I imagine it looks a lot like McNair and Hurley’s play. Max and Stevie teach us their slang, their inside jokes, their secret nicknames and their after school antics. Max tries so hard to fit in, and be liked, that when we hear stories of the biggest guy in the school chasing after him every day, our hearts break a little bit. These two boys are best friends, of course, and settle their differences with thumb wars. It’s so innocent and sweet that I don’t want them to step into the outside world and be stained with the pressures that masculinity will soon present. The bullies that Max, in particular, encounters are revealed to have pretty wretched home lives. The boys know this is the reason they are so big and horrible, but it doesn’t stop it hurting when they kick.
Everything in McNair and Hurley’s play revolves around the inheritance of fathers to their sons. Max’s dad is all but absent, so he looks for heroism in other places, which ends up landing him in a nasty situation. When you break apart the shell of manhood, all the love and worry and fun and heart leaks out into the audience. I see two young boys directly opposite me in the audience, and I hope that they see the best parts of themselves in this show, because for all the grappling and jabs, there’s a little bit of hope that these two might find a new way to foster friendship and resist their descent to becoming ‘men’. Maybe these two could even redefine it, if they wanted to.
Square Go is on at Summerhall until 26th August. More info here.