Catherine Love: Chris Goode’s new show is exquisitely angry. Beautifully fucking furious. A throbbing red vein of humane, poetic rage. It’s in that anger that it most departs from what I’ve seen of Goode’s work in the past. His shows are difficult but gentle places, spaces of complexity and pain, yet also spaces that feel safe, spaces that hold you. The tenderness has not entirely flown, but there is a sense that tenderness is no longer enough. Now is a time to get angry.
Men in the Cities is just what its title suggests. Goode shuffles between the stories of various men – including himself – all struggling and fighting and fucking in the atomised urban environment of the 21st century. One is a young gay man calmly, methodically taking his own life. One is a man in his 70s who is no longer sure who the real extremists are. One is a ten-year-old boy hooked on a site called Gay Twink Angels. All are watching the unavoidable news coverage of the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby.
The first thing I’m struck by is just how powerful it is. Goode performs the piece alone, standing at a microphone in a small pool of light, backed by a bank of electric fans. Despite the fact that this is just one man telling stories, the scope is somehow epic. The emotional range is also vast and unpredictable, tickling one moment and landing a kick to the guts in the next. By the end I feel exhausted, hollowed out, almost as broken and contorted as the men whose stories Goode tells.
It’s so furiously, mournfully about masculinity under late capitalism that I wonder what impact it has for a man watching it. Is this a masculinity that you recognise?
Freddie Machin: Yes, I found the piece deeply unsettling and furiously compelling too. The piece seems to be picking at a scab which unleashes an inevitable blood flow at the play’s climax. There is a constant reminder that the people Goode is talking about are just a paper’s thickness away from barbarism, from anarchy, from utter protest. Civilisation is a veneer which all of his characters maintain for the benefit of themselves and the world out there that none of them understand. Instead they whistle a happy tune to show that they are not afraid.
A single moment of theatricality expresses this sense of teetering on the edge of the Slough of Despond. When Goode is drawn into the fury and rage he abandons his spot in the light and thrashes around in the half light only to return a little later to ‘normality’.
There are some beautiful connections made through the montage of stories. Everyone is connected by the Drummer Rigby story or listening to the same radio station as we flit from house to house but there is poetic detail too. One man is boiling the kettle as another dips into a scalding hot bath. Even in the mundane and everyday Goode notes the violence of a life that we endure – that comforts us even.
And it is funny, we get to hear some wonderfully witty conversations as well as all of those moments that are never recorded such as people responding to the radio announcer as they switch the damn thing off. That humour continues, right to the end begging the question, is it this humour, this humanity which defines us or is this just a distraction from the pain of solitude, of loss, of ignorance.
Catherine Love: Maybe the humour is just something Goode’s characters – and all of us – use to shield ourselves from the vicious world that we find ourselves living in, but it feels vital nonetheless to the experience that has been crafted. I also found myself acutely aware of the moments of gentleness and love that lie nestled between all the show’s jagged edges. For that reason, I would contest any suggestion that Men in the Cities is just rage and despair through and through. There have to be glimmers of tenderness and care, however small, otherwise what are we getting angry for?
I’d also argue against the idea that the show paints an impenetrably black picture of our world, incapable of being pierced by any splinter of light. It’s furious and devastating and painful to watch, but not – at least for me – entirely without hope. There are certainly no solutions and no easy answers. Goode refuses to let his audience off the hook. But there’s a release to it, a sort of catharsis, and a question about what we go out and do with this rage that Goode has given us.
Or maybe that’s just me. Do you see any hope – even if that hope is violent and angry – in the piece?
Natasha Tripney: Absolutely. This is not a piece where hope is absent. It’s harder to see it at times, it sits on the peripheries but it’s in there. It’s also not a piece that holds its audience at length, as others have suggested, there’s a gesture of connection albeit more muted than in Goode’s earlier work. While I also found it a very unsettling thing to watch, something true emerges from the despair – it’s there in Goode’s words but also in the emotional response in the room, the fact that you’re experiencing this with people and not out there alone in the dark. I’ve spoken to several people who responded almost physically to the moment when everything breaks and Goode rages and howls. You want to reach out to him, to reach out to each other, to hold and be held. In Edinburgh the tendency to cram things in, to pile show upon show can make it difficult to fully engage with and process everything you’ve seen and felt, but Goode’s piece is still sitting with me. It’s something I keep returning to and will continue to.