Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2023 Theatre Review: Them (Pleasance Courtyard) ★★★★

With powerful physical performances by the all-female cast, Them is a challenging, complex piece that explores toxic masculinity.

Bergdis Julia Johannsdottir, Marjo Lahti, Anna Korolainen Crevier and Tinna Thorvalds Önnudottir in Them. Photo credit: Anna Maggy.

The audience is greeted, so politely, by the four performers who are sat as if in toilet cubicles. They apologise profusely, with a choral opening reminiscent of a barber shop quartet. This sets the scene for a thoughtful piece which utilises interviews with male-identifying individuals to question our preconceptions. Each of the four performers play a number of roles, from a traditional “boys club” to relationships women have with their fathers and brothers. They also turn the tables on presumptions and expectations about fatherhood.

Bergdis Julia Johannsdottir, Anna Korolainen Crevier, Tinna Thorvalds Önnudottir and Marjo Lahti in Them. Photo credit: Dan Zerin.

Spindrift Theatre bring a surprising amount of pathos and sensitivity to this piece, which could so easily have become a pastiche. Weaving the stories together with the creators’ own experiences, this becomes an empassioned plea for understanding, presenting the vignettes with both empathy and humour. There is great vulnerability here, from a man so unequipped to “fail” he almost dies on a long-distance run, to one that cannot work out how to cry.

The other side is not shied away from, however, as the cast don suits and pronounce that the feminists are waging “a war against men”, and that that toxic masculinity was “made up by unattractive women”. Virility, violence and pressure to fit a stereotype of maleness highlights a whole host of people who fear they do not measure up.

Bergdis Julia Johannsdottir, Anna Korolainen Crevier and Marjo Lahti in Them. Photo credit: Dan Zerin.

Expertly performed and thoughtfully staged, Them is a compelling and timely exploration of the inadequacy of gender norms, and the damage done when people are forced to try and fit them.

By Deborah Klayman

Them plays at the Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh until August 27th 2023.

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