“It’s like a church for queer people” says Alex Britt, the Mowgli of the show, dressed in denim dungaree shorts, sweat dripping down his face. Describing the gay club he’s just visited for the first time and which we’ve been viewing for the past fifty minutes, he encapsulates the hype, the sense of belonging, and the freeing ability the venue has.
Alistair Wilkinson’s devised show Man Cub is loosely based upon Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, depicting the club as a sort of jungle in a physical manner, full of carnal desire. A distorted Disney theme plays as the show opens and clubbers are searched by security, before it dissolves and morphs into a pulsing soundtrack which makes you want to get up and dance.
Arms pump in time with the red strobe lighting whilst hips circle to the beat of the soundtrack, ranging from Donna Summer to Cigarettes After Sex. The majority of the action is improvised, allowing the performers to discover themselves and each other afresh as they move in time to the music. Some of these moments run on longer than they should and do become stale from time to time. However, the moments of choreography work to the show’s advantage, adding elements of comedy. For example, the group suddenly turn and glance at Britt mid-dance, or halt their moving and leave him to dance alone, unaware and in ecstasy.
But though the night begins happy and sensually, things begin to twist and grow aggressive and animalistic as the club becomes the jungle. Packs are formed and move in formation, forming barricades to stop newcomers joining, and there’s a rather violent fight between people to dance with a guy. The darker side of a liberating experience is revealed. There is a harrowing scene of sexual abuse and rape performed vocally by Drew Sheridan-Wheeler, the abuser, and physically by victim (Lizzie Manwaring) which is both directed and performed well, and horrible to watch.
The show is comprised entirely of movement and dance sequences, broken only by three monologues. They’re all delivered well, and perhaps a few more pieces of text interspersed throughout could help shape more of a narrative. There are a few references to Kipling’s Jungle Book, such as the 4am comedown interpretation of ‘I Wanna Be Like You’ performed by Andy McCredie and Rachel Moore, along with incredible lifts inspired by Kaa the Snake (Louise Waller and Andy McCredie).
Man Cub is a real ensemble piece, full of intimacy and energy, and a twist on the classic coming of age story, celebrating queer culture as well as delving into the darker side of nightlife and human desire.
I was given a press ticket for this event but all opinions are my own.