Friday 27th September at Harrogate Theatre (Studio).
Jake Jarratt writes and stars in Blokes, Fellas, Geezers, a production which bills itself as ‘A Show about inherited working-class masculinity.’ It feels personal so if this isn’t autobiographical, Jarratt has tapped into quite a raw coming of age arc very insightfully. We meet various Jakes across the performance: there’s the very insecure but optimistic young Jake, the older daredevil Jake finding his stride as a teen and the fully matured older and wiser Jake, the one determined to step aside from the trajectory planned for him by his ‘fatha’ and circumstance.
Where Jake’s from, a lad gets clobbered for a wrong look and any sign of disrespect or challenge must be seen to with fists or something more sinister. There’s no such thing as a pacifier and anything resembling a mild demeanour labels you a ‘puff’ in a world where such a male would undoubtedly meet an extremely unpleasant experience. There are interesting insights into a variety of male relationships and the stressful dynamics someone like mild-mannered Jake have to navigate.
There are softer moments within the distinctly gruff world surrounding Jake, including glimpses of a softer relationship with this ‘fatha’ and the inevitable sense that the father too has been shaped into something he may not have otherwise become by the influences surrounding him in his youth. It’s not specified, but the quieter moments scream cycle of misfortune and bitter circumstances.
Director Scott Young keeps things well paced, with lighting (Louise Gregory) and musical transitions (Nick John Williams) making efficient work of moving between older and younger Jake in various situations – from park to pub to ‘rezzie’, Jake gets around with buoyant energy. A series of white boxes are co-stars and props combined, with faces and foods scribbled on them in a childish style. It’s a great way to approach the necessary replaying of exchanges with characters we never meet in the flesh, though the boxes do get some over-use across the production. It would be nice to have Jake step aside from shuffling them for a longer stint to allow for some stronger impacting key moments.
Jarratt gives a full throttle performance, playing out high energy exchanges between Jake and various characters with no indications of wavering pace. He inspires great sympathy for young Jake and gives an endearing softness to the young boy who eventually matures into something of a muddled, somber man. There’s not always enough distinction between the characters Jarrett channels but Jake and fatha fare particularly well when it comes to vocal and character distinctions. There’s humour and grit and pain to be found across the performance, and that sense of variety and progression is a testament to the writing.
What feels missing though is an indication of Jake’s experiences of romantic attachment. Here we’re privy to relationships with father and friends but no females other than fleeting references to the mother. The absence of a romantic attachment, male or female, feels like a missed opportunity. It may well be that Garrett wants to focus on the individual rather than the individual within a dependent unit, but all the same, it’s a shame because it’s in those intimate connections with strangers that we might learn all the more about Jake as an individual versus Jake as a product of influences around him.
Blokes, Fellas, Geezers is a topical piece, looking at the relationships between men which on the surface are all bluster and macho mumblings but belie a suffocating set of restrictions when it comes to social situations and the way small boys are taught to behave day to day. There are no lectures here and no one dares utter the damning label of ‘toxic masculinity’ but the messages are loud throughout, and with each altercation and inevitable moment of clouds descending over Jake’s features, we’re encouraged to reflect on what supremely masculine demands do to those who don’t fit the bill instinctively. Despite some blind spots, Jarratt’s writing and performance have much to offer to an important wider conversation taking place.
Blokes, Fellas, Geezers tours until October 19th 2019.
Photography: Von Fox Promotions