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Waiting for The Man

Public riots in London's Hyde Park in 1855 gave rise to the free-speech tradition that continues today at the park's Speakers' Corner, and it was partly the soapbox orators' theatricality that inspired the show, The Man.

The performer behind the one-man mash-up of stand-up comedy and Brechtian style theatrics does not want his name put to his creation. Brechtian theatre was a reaction against the illusory device in which the stage is dressed realistically and the audience is expected to engage emotionally with the actors. Brecht wanted to dissolve the “fourth wall” to remind viewers the play was a representation of reality and not reality itself. The Man's creator wanted to achieve that too in a minimalist setting.

“I call it Brechtian because there are so few props,” he jokes.

London theatre webpage Meetup describes The Man as a hybrid of stand-up and theatre in which the comedian/actor creates a pseudo fourth wall that invites the audience to assist in the recreation of a bystander's memory as it replays in front of them.

“Set at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park, The Man reconstructs the real-life incident of a bizarre individual who appeared one hot Sunday at the historic location and held court to the public for an entire hour. Addressing everything from spirituality and sexuality to modern warfare, charity, poverty and consumerism, The Man ­speaks to all but aligns with none referring to himself only as the Trickster God Of Irony.

“A lone, peaceful vigilante reaches out to his fellow citizens using discourse as dissent, laughter to dispel fear and madness to restore reason. All this whilst fending off hecklers, posing for tourists and melting, like an ice-cream, in the summer sun . . .”

A modern jester

The character the man behind The Man has developed is based on the archetype of the trickster, the Mephistophelean jester (think MC from Cabaret), and is a figurehead for the stand-up comic's edgy comedy.

“As the Man says, ‘I can't always play devil's advocate. Sometimes I have to play the devil',” says the stand-up comedian/actor.

“The Man is a modern jester who holds court in the park and reaches out to his fellow citizens by questioning everything.”

While in London, the stand-up comedian/actor became intrigued with Speakers' Corner and visited it every Sunday.

“There are regular performers and hecklers who defend the speaker. In the past five years, Speakers' Corner has had a resurgence as a bastion of free speech.”

Speakers can talk on any subject, as long as the police consider their speeches lawful. While comedians share similar licence, the nature of the art form means the edge of the envelope can be pushed a little further.

In the 1950s, American stand-up comedian, social critic, and satirist Lenny Bruce brought to his audiences, and sometimes visiting police, a freestyle form of comedy that blended satire, politics, religion, sex, and vulgarity. Contemporary black American stand-up comedian Dave Chapelle takes his comedy to the politically incorrect edge as does British comic Ricky Gervais who once said “People get offended when they mistake the subject of the joke with the actual target”.

For the stand-up comedian/actor, visits to Speakers' Corner became a kind of mystical experience.

“It was the ancient expression of city. At Speakers' Corner, the speaker was what a jester or court fool would look like. I wrote what I thought would be an amazing platform in which I would present a modern jester or fool. How would the archetype manifest itself? I wanted something that was more theatrical.”

At the edge

“The Man is a very solo enterprise, a culmination of my experience, a response to what was going on and to me becoming bored with my own presentation of material. More and more comics were telling me my comedy was politicised or it had socio-political weight. I wasn't aware of that and I wasn't interested in that, but it was going that way.”

Along with weekly visits to Speakers' Corner, the performer's London experience included a visit by two policemen to a theatre where he was testing new material that a couple of burly blokes loudly objected to. In a sense, it was the theatricality, audience engagement and edginess of both experiences that appealed to the comedian.

“The edge is where the most beautiful art sits” says the performer.

“The edge is at the centre of comedy, then the fraying edges. Comedy is a poignant bookmark to where a society's psyche is.”

After 23 years in stand-up comedy, eight-and-a-half of which were spent in the UK, the performer found he was increasingly frustrated with his work. “Circumstances in London had become more difficult and I wanted to find a creative way to rebirth.”

He eventually returned to New Zealand and is now coming to Gisborne to stage The Man for a special reason.

Gisborne resident Dick Johnstone was head of the Unitech drama course the comedian trained at in Hawke's Bay.

“His instruction helped me learn to write monologues which evolved into me writing and performing stand-up comedy. He instilled in me confidence in my ‘voice'. Because you have to step out in front of a room full of, often less than supportive, half-drunk adults, and be entertaining, this was of huge value for someone who started stand-up so young.

“Coming to Gisborne is like full-circle.”

The Man, Evolution Theatre, 75 Disraeli St, Friday, January 31, 7.30pm. Tickets $23 from eventfinda at https://tinyurl.com/yx6lyok5

MEPHISTOPHELEAN: The man behind the one-man mash-up of the theatrical stand-up comedy show, The Man, is bringing his iconoclastic work to Gisborne. Picture supplied
Stand up comedian known only as The Man
Stand up comedian known only as The Man