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Sessions | The Lion and Unicorn Theatre

There is an increasing amount of effort being put towards encouraging men to talk about the problems they are facing and how to peel back their defences, and Sessions allows space for that to be explored. From showing the struggles of opening up, to recognising growth within oneself, Sam Bates’ touring production unpacks toxic masculinity and how trauma affects someone's actions.

The two-hander begins in a blackout with recordings of news headlines flooding the space, gradually overlapping each other until they are inconceivable, each focusing on a different statistic about the issues that young people are facing and the cuts to local support that could help those who need it most. We are immediately thrown into what will be the main setting of the play - the meeting room of social worker David Turner (Naytanael Israel). David is meeting George Boucher (Adam Halcro) who has been handed an 18-month referral order and community service for GBH, which we later learn was an act of revenge. Through several meetings, we see George’s progress and the bond the pair form as they learn more about each other’s personal lives and get to the bottom of their trauma.

The production is upfront with the fact the show is about toxic masculinity and trauma, so it is no surprise that George is the first character introduced. He can simply be described as a

stereotypical “lad” who talks with as much aggression as his movement implies. However,

from the off, it is clear that he is doing what he believes is right - standing up for his sister - and fighting his problems. It’s just his methodology that lets him down. Bates does well to create a character who embodies everything generally hated about toxic males, whilst ensuring audiences are still on his side.

There was a sense of empathy, even though we knew nothing about him. Focusing on George, the play takes us along his journey of progression and he vocalises the techniques David has taught him to control his aggression, giving a beautiful insight into the work that can be done to support men untangling their harmful traits. The play ends on a cliffhanger as we are about to learn the details of George’s trauma, cleverly written as enough is said with implication. However, having also learnt that David had a deviant past related to his own trauma, we are left to wonder whether creating these images attempts to justify the men’s behaviour. In the same breath, does trauma explain all toxic masculinity? Trauma can dramatically change people’s lives, occasionally embedding traits of toxicity in men that can be addressed, but it feels like Sessions needed to spend some time acknowledging that not all trauma takes this path.

The chemistry between Halcro and Israel was majestic and the pair rarely missed a beat. Having the difficult job of presenting a character going through almost 2 years of self-growth in an hour, Halcro put the work in and stood out from the limited set. Through notable physical and vocal changes, the performance alone is worth seeing. Israel does well to play up to Halcro’s presence but unfortunately, due to the focus of the plot, he does not have as many fruitful opportunities to command the stage and it never feels like he is truly set free to do his own thing.

Bates has written a strong piece about toxic masculinity and developed characters that display the before, during, and after effects of someone sensitively dealing with their issues. Having spent a year developing the work, it is a strong debut play. It struggled to analyse trauma to the same degree but it is a great foundation for a play tackling the themes we desperately need to tackle.

⭐️⭐️⭐️ (3*)

Gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Lucy Hayes


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