Suicide is a perennially important topic and one that has to be approached with care, compassion and tact. This was the subject of Toxic; no easy task to take on.
As part of Manchester Fringe festival, Toxic, at The Altringham Garrick, is a story that follows two best friends and the circumstances which have caused them to spiral. Andy discovers his husband has been having an affair. Stuck in a soul-crushing job, his lifejacket of love was the only thing keeping him afloat. His best friend James is a man’s man who uses gags to disguise his vulnerability.
The writer, Dan Lovatt, explores toxic masculinity, with each character clearly defining the traits of men you recognise from your own life. As a woman, the pressures upon men within a toxic society can be alien, but the piece does well to make this theme relatable not only within the relationships we have but within ourselves too.
The piece is performed by 4 actors: Andy (played by Patrick Price) and James (played by Joseph Gallogly) are best friends. Their scenes are natural, flow well and depict the juxtaposition between the characters clearly from the start. James, the joker mate, hiding behind a masquerade of ‘banter’ and quips, contrasts with Andy, the heartbroken friend, who is hurting and feels he needs space, not wanting to burden anyone with his pain.
Later in the piece we meet Camo (played by Joseph Richard Thomas), James’ ‘jack the lad’ friend who only talks about football, girls and drinking and then Patrick (played by Joe facer), Andy’s younger cousin: fun, free and a much-needed distraction for troubled Andy.
Camo is the personification of toxic masculinity; his use of words such as ‘touchy’, ‘Debby downer’ and ‘snowflake’ identifies the struggles men deal with from their own kind due to a toxic culture surrounding men.
For me, there were scenes within the piece that didn’t quite reach the depth (past certain stereotypes) that I felt it could have. This may possibly have been a writing or directorial choice (directed by Connor Goodwin) to ensure the piece had moments of relief, as there were plenty of humorous lines and anecdotes to relieve the play from its darker themes. Some scenes of a suicidal nature could be quite triggering for certain viewers, but it is all performed with grace and care.
Joseph Gallogly’s performance as James stole the show. His character’s journey, for me, provided the biggest moments for reflection. His performance was pure and authentic, particularly in his closing monologue, which was breath-taking, bringing tears to my eyes and certainly a few other members of the audience.
The story of friendship, heartbreak and mental health is sponsored by the charity, Andy’s Man Club, whose mantra is ‘it’s okay to talk’ – a well paired message for the play. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45, 1 man every 2 hours! A statistic that shocks me to the core.
Toxic will make you laugh, cry and will keep you hooked from start to finish. It’s a brave undertaking to tackle such deep and probing issues, however one that needs to be explored and discussed more within society, within our friendship groups and within the arts. If you take nothing else from it, you will absolutely take a second to think about those you care about most. One particular line epitomised this – “Sometimes, survival is worth celebrating”.
Toxic plays 1 final night in Altrincham on the 9th September. https://manchester.ssboxoffice.com/events/toxic-play/
Reviewer: Alison Ruck
Reviewed: 7th September 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★