‘Rules for Being a Man’ is the best thing to have come out of lockdown. Sightline Production’s portrayal of Alex Oates’ original play is poignant, exploring dark themes of suicide and men’s mental health. When these issues have been challenged like never before due to the impact of Covid-19, ‘Rules for Being a Man’ is a necessary watch for all but certainly requires multiple trigger warnings.
Despite the subject matter, the production is relatively upbeat, filled with stories from the men’s childhood and funny anecdotes about marriage. The characters are likeable, contributing to the audience’s connection with them, increasing their sympathy when the production reaches its climax.
The script covers a lot of ground. Charlie Howe effectively communicates the pressures that society puts on men by taking audiences through the ‘Rules for Being a Man’: “be strong”; “avoid shopping”; “sleep well, snore heavily”; “assume all lesbians just haven’t met the right bloke”; and the most agonising of all, “it’s alright to cry over football and chopping onions and if you’re at a funeral…maybe. Other than that, never cry in public”. These ‘rules’ reveal the sad reality that society makes men feel like they cannot talk about their emotions, let alone feel emotion in the first place.
All aspects of suicide are covered: the person committing, the helpline worker, the family left behind, even the stark reality of surviving a suicide attempt is discussed. Over the one-hour piece, audiences are struck by the actors’ talent playing the three generations of men as they come to terms with how these ‘rules’ have affected their lives. The honest performances from Cameron Ashplant, Charlie Howe, Tom Cain, and Miriam Templeman are beyond amateur theatre. Looking directly into the camera lens, it feels as though they are talking directly to audiences, thus establishing a connection that has been majorly lost in the theatre recently.
Despite this talented acting, the production’s notable technical aspects elevated it from great to dazzling. For this, co-directors Lucy Little and Esther Levin and co-producers John Duffet and Harry Jenkins should be congratulated. The camera quality made the production more professional, as did the use of audio, which consisted of instrumental music enhancing tense moments and an overlapping of voices explaining the ‘Rules for Being a Man’ in the final sequence.
As audiences reach the climax of the performance, the directors increase the tension by outlining why a production with themes such as this is so relevant. A shocking statistic lights up the screen, “every week 125 people take their own lives in the UK, and ¾ of all UK suicides are male…asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength”. The inclusion of this detail allows the production’s final line to repeat in the audience’s minds: “have you thought about talking to anyone about it?”
The play is nearly faultless. Being a student production, the actors look the same age which contrasts with the script when they are clearly from different generations. To compensate, the character ‘Father’, portrayed by Tom Cain, has a West Country accent. Unfortunately, this accent is not sustained on every word. Therefore, his performance would have been much more successful without it.
That said, ‘Rules for Being a Man’ is a play for the ages. The production team and actors from Sightline Productions tenderly tackle difficult suicide and mental health themes, bringing difficult topics back into the discussion. This is not your classic example of student theatre: it is professional, well-produced, effectively directed, and superbly acted. For an innovative perspective on men’s mental health, ‘Rules for Being a Man’ is a must-see.