By Sarah Jasem
Do you crave salvation? Do you seek a safer future for all mankind? Do you believe in the power from within? Are you capable of becoming the Most Competent Man?
Back for a third year, the powerhouse festival FreshworksFEMME returns to the Old 505 with two exciting new female-led shows to share. This week’s offering comes in the form of two vivacious emerging artists with their exploratory new work Return of Kings. Originally created by members of the drag collective Socks in Jocks, Carlee Heise and Alana Blakeney, and produced with Shopfront Arts Co-op, Return of Kings is an induction ceremony into the Church of Manhood, a holy place of poignant dildo props and camp glitter crowns amongst the prayer candles.
Set up like a quirky religious-themed game show, the audience were quickly inducted into this cult, encouraged to join in with singing the hymns and led by the two engaging performers. Kobi Taylor-Forder took to the stage as the magnetic King Kronos, providing larger than life energy as she put the charismatic Laura Hart through various tests of manhood. With two talented performers, Return of Kings comfortably found a balance between its taboo humour and leaving the audience in moments of utter discomfort.
Unlike the anti-women groups that use this show’s title as a phrase to inspire violence and a ‘taking back’ of power that has apparently been lost, the group on this stage was conceived out of a desire to end male violence against women and rape culture. Inducting women into manhood lends itself to increasing hilarity, satirically warping the logic of toxic masculinity, ‘if we are all men, we are all equal’. The Church of Manhood waxes lyrical about traditionally masculine ‘Aussie bloke’ stereotypes and oozes sexual references from every angle, as these two women embody every element of male toxicity in the fight to become equal.
The show takes a sharp turn as we cross the line from hilarity and unease into the darkest parts of toxic masculinity, and you’re left with a lump in your throat. For many of us, these moments are all too familiar. At times, this dichotomy between the reality of toxic masculinity and the satire of it can become muddled in interstitial moments in the middle of the play, as serious subject matter is touched on too fleetingly, or are padded with so many comedic moments that the darker tones are lost. However, when Taylor-Forder and Hart truly commit to exploring those darkest elements and tackle them with the same confidence as their hilarious satirical scenes, the show hits home. Return of Kings successfully calls into question everything from toxic masculinity to audience complicity.
Return of Kings is a play that stays with you long after you have left the theatre. With a short show run until only the 28th of November, I would highly recommend this creative team and everything they have to offer.