The Straw Man
Grist To The Mill Productions Ltd
In rhetorical terms, a "straw man" is a debating tactic where someone will misrepresent the position or beliefs of their opponent, or the opponent's argument, to give themselves an easier target to knock down.
It's a fitting title for Grist to the Mill's latest offering, portraying a confused, angry man railing against a world he no longer understands, but one which seems to have reduced all of his being to a handful of criteria and forgotten all of the complexity of the person he is and the life he has led.
The stage for this exploration is carefully set, with writer and performer Ross Ericson's middle-aged actor talking openly about how, despite voting remain in the Brexit referendum, the rest of the country went against him, about his fears of his own temper, of being irrelevant and of the way that white straight men like him are becoming villified in society, solely for being straight, white and male, all the while with the lurking undercurrent that something bad has happened, that is yet to be revealed.
There's a huge amount to unpack in this and, although Ericson has tackled issues of class confusion, sexism and masculinity in previous works, this feels a far more raw, personal and current exploration of feelings touching on everything from #MeToo, casual racism and toxic masculinity to the perils of social media and the history of the suffragettes.
Many of the themes that are present here are greatly interesting, as well as potentially touching and enlightening, and considering its history Grist to the Mill certainly has the chops to work something from this rich area of artistic plunder.
But with respect to Grist to the Mill, this piece should have been openly billed as a work in progress; as Ericson himself mentioned at the end of the performance, it's still being refined. And it shows, as there's a roughness to the edges, including some clunky light and audio changes, stumbling over lines, and a sense of the whole building towards an emotional climax that never quite manages to seal itself with a satisfactory pinning at the end.
With more work, this could be quite something, but in its current form, it's an ungainly mess that frustrates where it should enlighten.