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Review: Square Go (Summerhall, Edinburgh Fringe)

Fringe First-winning writers Kieran Hurley and Gary McNair collaborate on this new piece about peer pressure

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Square Go at Summerhall
© Mihaela Bodlovic

Boys will be boys, but they would rather be men. In the toilets at Hammerstein High, two teenagers are steeling themselves for a fight – a 'square go' at the school gates. Max Brocklehurst, a gently geeky 13 year-old, has wound up on the wrong side of the biggest kid in class, Danny Guthrie. He can't run, he can't hide: his masculinity's at stake.

Written by the local tag team Kieran Hurley and Gary McNair, Square Go takes a sideways look at the peer pressures that push down on pubescent boys. Max and his bestie-cum-cornerman Stevie Nimmo are the sort of schoolyard saplings that just can't catch a break. For all their bravado behind closed toilet doors, they're catnip for bullies; the butt of bigger boys' jokes; bottom of a playground pecking order where manliness matters. They both know its basic measurements by heart: sporting prowess, snogs, pubes and square gos. As Max sees it, you man up or you fall down.

A boy's-eye-view of a big man's world, Square Go sympathises with its schoolboys as it sends them up. Played by two grown men wearing wrestling kit – Scott Fletcher and Gavin Jon Wright both seem weedily ridiculous – the boys' macho posturing becomes endearingly see-through. The threats they quake at both gain and lose sting. Snarling beneath a Lucha libre-style mask, Danny Guthrie seems too scared to show his real self.

Hurley and McNair suggest men rarely do. Indeed, masculinity mostly seems like an act – a set of behaviours learned from other men. Fletcher's Max tries to match up to his absentee dad, while Wright's word-soup-spouting Stevie seeks inspiration in their eccentric science teacher. Square Go's keenly aware that teenage traits can turn toxic with time; that today's boys become tomorrow's men.

Undoubtedly, it's all a whole lot of fun. Finn den Hertog's boisterous staging whips up its crowd, eliciting the over-excitable atmosphere of a playground pile-on. That doesn't entirely work in its favour. Inflatable bullies and WWE-style hype feel like harmless fun, spinning into the giddy mania of Saturday morning TV, but Square Go never turns on its heels to make our behaviour hit home. You wait for a rug pull that never quite comes. It encourages juvenility without dishing up just deserts. In another context, that accessibility might count for something more. At the Fringe, however, it lets us off the hook.

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