I have never felt more uncomfortable being a woman at the theatre. The pub setting of Scottee’s Bravado is, as another female audience member puts it, “almost like it’s staged.” It feels like the men at the bar are staring at me as I walk into The Britons Protection; just about five minutes walk away from the safety of HOME. I feel like I’m running the gauntlet just to get into the space to see the performance.
That anxiety pervades the entire performance: from the trigger warnings flashing blue and white on the crackling televisions that make up the set, to the graphic depictions of violence on a North London council estate in the 1990s. Writer/director Scottee is physically absent and an audience volunteer is asked to perform the piece in its entirety; another source of anxiety at the top of the show: it takes an uncomfortably long time for anyone to put themselves forward. We are left to squirm in our seats until someone does.
The 1990s aesthetic looms large over the whole piece – we’re transported back in time through visuals and audio. The televisions that make up the set play clips from TV shows, video games, and adverts (Robot Wars and Men Behaving Badly, Yorkie: ‘it’s not for girls,’ Street Fighter), Oasis tracks act as musical interludes to break up the action. Marty Langthorne’s frenetic, unpredictable lighting design only adds to the sensory overload.
The show is split into four sections – blood, spit, tears, cum – but these distinctions are almost arbitrary. Masculinity in Bravado is the combination of these things. One particular scene in ‘Spit’ details an early sexual encounter between Scottee and “O’Malley.” It’s a functional exchange on O’Malley’s side: there is no kissing on the mouth, and he spits in Scottee’s face after he orgasms. Sex is a violent display of power and superiority.
The theme of desire comes up repeatedly: Scottee’s need for love and approval from the men in his life, whilst simultaneously despising them for everything they’ve put him through. He wants them to die; he wants them to love him.
The years flashing up on the TV screens drive it home – what has really changed? The toxicity of masculinity is still as pervasive 25 years later. We jump to 2016, Euston Station. Slurs are yelled his way; no one wants to help him. Boys will be boys. Scottee wants to punch something and he doesn’t know why. The boys from the estate may still be bound by ‘brotherhood and bravado’ but even a man who positions himself in opposition to his gender cannot fully escape masculinity’s terrifying manifestations.