Acclaimed playwright Alice Malseed reflects on her Jade City in her latest work. Ahead of its VAULT Festival 2019 performances, she speaks about the culture of toxic masculinity in the play's location, Belfast.

Belfast is a heavy place.

I wrote Jade City in May 2017. I was living temporarily in a new area of the city. I spent the evenings walking through the rows of terraces, to the boxing club, the pub or through Ormeau Park. All these locations feature prominently in Jade City – this is where Sas and Monty are from. This is where they threw stones at the police as teenagers, downed blue WKD, smoked weed, got ice cream and swam in their world’s murky haze.

In this new area, I noticed Belfast’s heaviness. I felt it.

There are pockets of lightness in the city, a dark humour, a sharp wit. But there is almost always a denseness in the air.

There are a myriad of reasons why it’s there – you know most of them, and the physical landscape of the city and the surrounding areas have an effect too.

Alice Malseed

When I was writing Jade City, it felt like the heaviness was weighing down physically on some of the men who I saw in the area, their bodies sluggish, carrying stories and whole thick worlds on their heads. In many ways, this was a whole new world for me. I’d never written a play with any men in it before. I hadn’t actively avoided it, but I actively didn’t feel like giving male voices any more time on stage.

Jade City felt different. I wanted to explore why men might do horrible things to women. I wanted to hear the conversations between men that might happen after an attack on a woman. Not laddy ‘Belfast sluts’ WhatsApp conversations, but an actual attempt to strip back the layers of toxicity that can prevent real empathetic and open feelings from emerging in men.

I don’t think there is any more toxic masculinity in Belfast than in, say, London. The characters in Jade City are really specific to Belfast (it’s quite a specific place!) but their traits will resonate with any men who’ve grown up feeling unable to express themselves, trapped in a community that isn’t supporting them but feels so much like home that it shackles their ankles. Or men who feel unable to relate to women in any sort of real, positive or respectful way.

Jade City VAULT Festival

Barry Calvert & Brendan Quinn (image courtesy of Will McConnell)

The themes and characters will echo with women who know these men – and I feel, unless I’m just unlucky, that there are many men like Sas and Monty. The culture of masculine dominance and patriarchy, which is alive and kicking in Northern Ireland and the UK, doesn’t serve men. Of course, women get the worst of it (anyone who knows anyone North or South of Ireland will have heard about many news stories and opinions about this recently). But that sour climate negatively affects men too.

Sas and Monty are poster boys for the permeating negative culture that forces men to suppress their softer feelings and emotions, that doesn’t let men (or women) fail, and that allows men to see women as existing to serve them, socially, physically and emotionally.

This play isn’t an attempt to take on toxic masculinity, rather it is a chance to illuminate its universally devastating effects, mainly for women but also for characters like Sas and Monty.

It shows how trapped people can feel within the structures around them.

Sas and Monty want to find a way through their own lives and experiences, and the play shows their attempts to find joy and feeling within their discontentment.

Jade City is an energetic and poetic two-hander performed by exceptional actors Brendan Quinn and Barry Calvert.  The play has a poetic and rhythmic style, the script is beautifully illustrated for a bare stage through Katherine Nesbitt’s direction and David Quinn’s quirky yet clear movement direction. All this is underscored by Michael Mormecha’s soundtrack.

Jade City is a raw and alive rollercoaster of emotion which leaves audiences punch drunk.

 

Alice Malseed’s play, Jade City, runs at the VAULT Festival 2019 from 6 – 10 February 2019. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the venue website.