Playwright Mark Daniels talks toxic masculinity as he brings The Institute of Nuts to Deptford's newest arts space, Matchstick Theatre, later in March 2019:

What an honour to be asked to write something about my (hopefully) weird and wonderful, (hopefully) hilarious and haunting, (hopefully) dark and enlightening, piece of new theatre – The Institute Of Nuts that will be on at the Matchstick Theatre in Deptford from 28 March – 12 April.

But, what should I talk about… the whats, the whens, the wherefores? Well, surely the thing that really matters in theatre is the WHY. So, here are the three whys of my new play, The Institute of Nuts.

Institute Nuts Matchstick Theatre

Why this?

The inspiration came from one of today’s true hot topics: toxic masculinity. As a feminine gay man I came to realise, through discussions with many straight friends, that I have a relatively unique take on the issue. The pressure on teenage boys to be “manly” is immense and I feel I can see it for what it is as someone who has been able to break free from those expectations.

I try to completely separate the ideas of physical sex and gender-stereotypical personality traits.

It surprises me how many people don’t.

I believe the traditional patriarchy shapes how we define success as a society, for both men and women.

Why is “success” seen as something that comes as a result of strength, bravery and boldness, rather than empathy, kindness and emotional intelligence?

Where does this leave feminine people? How much relentless pressure does it put on masculine people?

Are even the most woke among us seeing through the patriarchy and creating a better society?

These are the questions the play tries to answer… easy task we’ve set ourselves there!

While that all sounds incredibly morbid and serious, this play certainly isn’t. I’ve always written comedy and that’s another reason I chose this topic specifically. There’s so much fun to be had with gender stereotypes and overt, bullish masculinity. I’ve been inspired by shows like Black Mirror to set The Institute Of Nuts in an otherworldly institute, a sort of training ground for masculinity where the rules are different to our own. This leaves lots of freedom for absurdity and farce.

N89

Why here?

Matchstick Piehouse is a fantastic new creative arts space in Deptford/ New Cross. Opened by Matchstick Theatre in 2018, it’s a pair of converted railway arches that serves up music, theatre, beers and pies. My play, N89, an immersive piece set on a London night bus, was performed there last year, and they’ve been kind enough to invite me back to work with them again. The two producers, Adam Gerrett and Dominic Spillane are an inspirationally ambitious and supportive pair, passionate about interesting work and helping bring new theatre to life. They’re particularly supportive of new London writers.

The Institute of Nuts will be part of the Spring Season, which also features a piece called Gala Mae by playwright Annette Brook. Both Annette and myself are born and raised in South London and are so grateful to be supported by a local venue. It’s a great flexible space with a warm atmosphere and they’re making really exciting work.

Molly Ward & Theo Toksvig-Stewart

Why them?

Aside from the theatre, I’m working with an amazing team. Director Edwina Strobl, is my theatre soulmate. She also directed N89 and I’m thrilled to be working with her again – we both hope it’s the start of a long-term partnership (at least that’s what she’s saying to my face!). We’ve worked very closely on developing the script, the plot and the tone of this play together. We have a true respect for each other’s visions, passions and opinions.

Working with her has taught me the real importance of finding collaborators that want to tell the same story as you do, someone who that you feel comfortable discussing, debating and drinking copious amounts of alcohol with.

The actors, of course, are incredible too. Two of them, Molly Ward and Theo Toksvig-Stewart also appeared in N89, so it’s great to be extending that collaboration further. Two of them, Tori Louis and Craig Abbott, Edwina and I saw in other pieces and were very impressed by.

I can’t tell you how excited I was when I first walked into the rehearsal room to see this talented bunch together! The actors are being super-flexible, as I’m hacking away at my precious baby script and making tweaks as we go. Everyone’s enjoying it, everyone still likes the piece and everyone’s even on board with all the ridiculous lines, from

“I lost my virginity at the age of 2” to “Natalie Imbruglia scored more goals for England than Gary Lineker” to “It’s pretty schlongy down there.”

Intrigued yet? Then come and see The Institute of Nuts for yourself! If you’re strong, brave and powerful enough, that is.

The Institute of Nuts plays at Matchstick Theatre from 28 March – 12 April 2019. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the venue website.