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Review: A Brief History of the Fragile Male Ego

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Jordan and Skinner’s A Brief History of the Fragile Male Ego has the same relevancy today as it did when it first premiered in 2019. Under the direction of Caitlin Skinner, the show’s self-awareness of its digitality creates an engaging performance that serves as a strange but welcome substitute to live theatre—also largely thanks to Melanie Jordan’s spectacular performance. The jokes leave a wry smile and a feast for thought afterwards.

An adorkable Andrea presents a lecture on ‘A Brief History of the Fragile Male Ego’ for the Society for Men’s Universal Truth (SMUT), for the first time, in a ‘dig-y space’. Throughout the lecture, Andrea clunkily transmutes to historical men with huge egos, including but not limited to Sigmund Freud, Posiedon, Julius Caesar, William Wallace and Jose Mourinho.

A self-aware Andrea takes a few digs at the digital nature of the show and tries to strike a balance between live performance and ‘theatrical’ space. The effect is slightly off-putting at first but lends a new dimension to the show. For instance, the sequence of Poseidon flirting around the screen drags out and loses its punch mainly because responses from a live audience completes half the joke. That said, the discomfort evoked by Jordan’s Poseidon, repeating his tirade left, right and centre whilst starring with wide, unhinged eyes at the camera is on par with the unease caused by ‘irl’ men who do the same. In this sense, whilst the digital adaptation loses some comedic effect brought by a live audience, it also gains a sense of personalisation by being so confrontationally in your face.

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More importantly, the show’s parody has the same relevancy it had in 2019. Towards the conclusion of her lecture, Andrea tutors women on how they should cater to the fragile egos of males in their lives. This resonates with the ‘pick me girl’ phenomenon, which skyrocketed in 2021—a trend where some women worked to impress men by putting down other women. It’s a comedic slap in the face to the frail male ego that requires constant coddling but also a backhand at internalised misogyny. However, this is not handled insensitively. We see how Andrea suffers because of this in her personal life—especially memorable because the quiet vulnerability that Jordan portrays is nearly as deafening as the clamouring humour that precedes and succeeds it.

In a similar vein, A Brief History of the Fragile Male Ego carefully jibes not at present political pundits and not even particularly at the historical figures, but the ideas that the historical figures present. In the public imagination, Caesar is the guy who conquered lands, had sex with his friends’ mothers, and became the first dictator of Rome—acts of “peak manliness” apparently—and it is this that Jordan and Skinner mocks. In this sense, the show is sensitive and ambitious, as its target is not merely anti-feminist rhetoric but the historically imbued ideas of masculinity.

Ultimately, A Brief History of the Fragile Male Ego is a timeless work. Initially, it seems depoliticised and not urgently relevant—after all, it merely mocks the abstractions of a few male historical figures–but the true target of the age-old ideas of the male ego is a challenging target to dissect and parody in fifty minutes. Sometimes, it may miss its mark by dragging on the comedy bits, but it delivers and handles the topic sophisticatedly. It is precisely this quality that lends the work charming, timeless relevancy as it gently nudges its audience to relate their own experiences to a long history of ‘the fragile male ego’.

The show will be running in-person and on demand at Edinburgh’s Assembly Roxy from 30 January-6 February; Dumfries and Galloway Arts Festival in person on 7 February and online from 30 January – 6 February; Eastgate Theatre and Arts Centre, Peebles in person on 18 February and online from 19-25 February

Image: Promotional Image of A Brief History of the Fragile Male Ego, Jordan and Skinner, Courtesy of Storytelling PR ltd/A Brief History of the Fragile Male Ego Press Kit