What makes a man a monster? It’s no small question, and the one raised by Joe Sellman-Leava in his new work Monster, that attempts to deconstruct a facet of monstrousness – specifically, toxic masculinity. Originally debuted at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, author and performer Sellman-Leava had no way of knowing his piece would be performed as the world at large is finally taking steps to confront the dark side of unchecked masculine dominance in the entertainment industry.
Taking an incident from his own life – albeit going to length to stress that some is factual, some is fiction, and he won’t be telling us which is which – Sellman-Leava takes us to a period of his life showing him in rehearsal for a play reinterpreting the words of Shakespeare to form a tale of domestic violence, but more concerned with primal showmanship than exploring the issue. His concerns with the integrity of the piece start to bleed into his personal life, affecting a fledgling relationship. Throughout, Sellman-Leava weaves in testimonies of sorts, using pitch perfect impressions to recreate the words of Mike Tyson and Patrick Stewart, both of whom add differing perspectives on acts of abuse. The various narratives weave effectively, as something dark begins to spread its wings Sellman-Leava’s protagonist, something that has crash-landed from the outside world or, more worryingly, has perhaps been there all along. Over the course of an hour, the on-stage Joe commands the space effectively, with physical and vocal shifts, and lighting cues taking us from place to place.
With a narrative that skips from thread to thread, the play is disorienting, deliberately so. Although it’s peppered with moments of necessary light relief, Monster is no easy ride, and Monster offers no easy answers and does not pretend to do so. When we call someone a monster, we do so to distance someone from us, as if no human could perpetrate monstrous acts, when the sad truth is the exact opposite. An intriguing look at the dark nature of the male psyche and the destructive potential within us all.