Reviewed by Aimee Smith
A comedy show about toxic masculinity? That’s sure to offer a good feminist giggle at the expense of the patriarchy, I hear you say. In actuality, Cameron McLeod’s show doesn’t quite deliver the expected fare. Whilst we do enjoy a few laughs at the sometimes ridiculous, sometimes painful, effects of the patriarchy, the rollercoaster we’re taken on is both completely unprecedented, and also far more worthy our time that the title promises.
In a very broad sense, the content of the show shines a light on the challenges and pressures placed on McLeod growing up male, and our expectations of masculinity. I know many a feminist would eye-roll at the concept of some white dude telling stories about how much masculinity can suck, but McLeod approaches the content from a pro-feminist angle that elicits sympathy and understanding. Hearing his tirade tearing down the well-worn phrase ‘Not all men’, is both as funny as it is refreshing coming out of the mouth of a bloke.
The performance McLeod gives is high energy, and his interaction with the audience skilled. He isn’t afraid to push boundaries with his audience members (a well known fact to anyone who has seen his show ‘This is Steve’) but he never crosses the line into uncomfortable provocation. Even his profound disgust with realising a vast majority of his audience hasn’t seen ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ leaves the crowd feeling laughed with, rather than laughed at. Somehow, it feels like McLeod ends up as the willing butt of the joke.
McLeod’s approach to decoding ‘toxic masculinity’ is a very personal one. We hear stories about his hormones, his sex life, his relationships. This is what makes the show stand out from yet another show telling us things we already know about feminism. The experiences McLeod shares with us are painful and confusing, but McLeod owns the humour that exists in these challenging situations. While the specifics of each story are uniquely his own, he finds the universal elements in each that reflect emotions we’ve all struggled with. You can feel that collective murmur of agreement throughout the audience as he details uncomfortable conversations with a potential lover. While each of our stories and shames may differ, it’s undeniable – we’ve all been there.
The emotional sucker-punch of the show is when McLeod shares stories about his father’s death. Thanks to gently warming us up with his prior tales of young adult vulnerability, we feel ready to go to this place with him. McLeod gives us some of the weirdest and most wonderful stories I hear from the Nelson Fringe; a bizarre epic which stars himself and his family holidaying in Hollywood, whilst on a secret mission to scatter his father’s ashes. It definitely falls within the realm of ‘you can’t make this stuff up’ – the fact that it’s all so ridiculous, yet real, creates a cocktail that is both heartbreaking and heartwarming.
To me, that’s the most marvellous thing about this show. I had no expectation that a show titled ‘Toxic Mas’ would end in an audience that felt moved to put their arms around each other. Some of us cried, and some of us comforted. It’s not an experience I would ever think to ask of a comedy show – but it’s undeniable that the world is left a little better from seeing theatre that leaves us feeling a little less alone, and a little bit more loving.