Macho review – hope and fragile feelings in a tough townscape

The setting is a social club in Easington, County Durham. An ex mining town, it’s the kind of place where pit closures have, over the decades, left men lacking purpose, pride and paid employment. Amid the pints and the racing on the TV, Jackson Watson cuts a despondent figure, curled on the floor, the slow spinning and twisting of his b-boy moves standing in for a tangled spiral of thoughts, occasionally crashing to the ground.

Around him, hardly anyone notices. The torment’s all going on inside, because young men are expected to put on a front, to be “macho” as the title puts it. Newcastle choreographer Michael Heatley and his company Hit the Ground Running made Macho, which has now been turned into a film, en 2016 to address men’s mental health and what lies under a person’s show of strength. The piece was developed from real men’s stories, against the backdrop of a region, the north-east, that has one of the highest male suicide rates in England and Wales. The kind of place where young men find catharsis fighting each other after last orders – there’s a nod to this in the film – because it’s a more socially acceptable way to deal with your demons than talking about them.

Agradecidamente, in this case, Watson isn’t entirely alone. Head hung heavily, he leans his whole weight into dancer Jordan McGowan, who at first does nothing but hold him. The pair move in tender, anxious, touching duets, and the message is that, por último, self-expression and connection can bring hope. Heatley and film-maker Jonathan Ackley forge a bleak picture in the half-hour film, but it’s one that comes with some unexpected turns and tonal shifts, and a sincere connection to its subject matter from director and performers.

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