Caravan Guys ponder toxic masculinity in savage satire How To Beat Up Your Dad

The naked truth: Theo Mason Wood and Albert Haddenham in How To Beat Up Your Dad. Pictures: Mollie Gallagher

CARAVAN Guys Theatre Company’s darkly comic tale of “toxic masculinity”, How To Beat Up Your Dad (The Musical), is taking to the road.

First stop for this debut show – first performed in its entirety at The Arts Barge Riverside Festival in York last July – will be at Slung Low’s home at The Holbeck Theatre, in Leeds, on February 9.

On stage at 5pm will be Albert Haddenham and York actor, musician and writer Theo Mason Wood, son of York playwright Mike Kenny and stage and screen actress Barbara Marten.

First making his mark on the York music scene with Bonnie Milnes in the darkly humorous The Lungs and Gwen, Theo graduated from the drama and theatre arts degree course at Goldsmiths, University of London, three summers ago.

Now comes Caravan Guys’ savagely satirical tale of one young man’s journey through manhood, taking him from being a meek teenager looking for the secret, to losing his virginity, to becoming a young man stealing Yakults™, searching for happiness and finally standing up to his own dad with his fists.

Please note, this show is a “free-form piece of dark comedy about the damaging and violent nature of masculinity and doesn’t actually give any instructions on beating up your own dad”. Instead, as told through a cocktail of performance, spoken word, music and storytelling, humour and hubris, How To Beat Up Your Dad is a comedy about masculinity and all the wrong ways to solve your problems.

Here Theo steps out of the caravan to answer Charles Hutchinson’s questions.

Who are the Caravan Guys and why is the company so called, Theo?

“Caravan Guys is myself, Theo Mason Wood, and Albert Haddenham, of Bridlington, a charismatic sausage/multi-instrumentalist with the best sense of humour and big strong hands.

“We are the draughty corridor between hilarity and horror,” says Theo Mason Wood, pictured on the run behind Albert Haddenham,

“We met about 14 months ago and immediately found that we found the same things funny. On New Year’s night last year, we drunkenly swore to make something together and that’s how How To Beat Up Your Dad (The Musical) was born.

“People do awful things, really weird awful things and Caravan Guys want to show you why and make you laugh at them. We are the draughty corridor between hilarity and horror. We are the unknown stain on the caravan floor and the reason it’s going cheaply.”

What was the inspiration for the show?

“The absurdity of masculinity. The script was originally a short story I wrote; I compiled some real stories of extreme and absurd situations that I and other men I know have been in and then applied them all to one character. I find myself constantly amazed by the lengths men will go to assert themselves. It’s shocking and often unpleasant but also really funny.”

Where do you stand on masculinity? Some say men are becoming emasculated, such as in the way they are portrayed in adverts and increasingly on TV. On the other hand, your play highlights “the damaging and violent nature of masculinity”. Discuss…

“Although the phrase gets used a lot, I really do think that masculinity is spectacularly fragile. As a culture, we’re all becoming more aware of this, so the cracks in the macho façade are growing bigger and bigger, and I think we’re all a lot more able to see it for what it is.

“The play shows how sexism and homophobia are often just defences against feeling emasculated. These tropes of masculinity say a lot more about the individual’s sense of self than it does about the groups they are attacking.

“As men, we have been taught that sadness, anxiety and vulnerability are not valid emotions; to cry is to be weak and to be weak is to not be masculine. Therefore, often men will push outwards when experiencing these feelings, they will turn it into rage, aggression and violence.”

“Many men don’t have the correct tools to deal with their emotions and will lash out because anger is seen as masculine while sadness isn’t ,” says Theo Mason Wood

How is that reflected in your play?

“This is what I mean when I say the play is about the damaging and violent nature of masculinity, I mean that many men don’t have the correct tools to deal with their emotions and will lash out because anger is seen as masculine while sadness isn’t. “Although this all sounds very serious – which it is – our show is largely a comedy and we aim to create a space where we can all laugh at the strange things men do to protect themselves from feeling small.”

Explain the provocative choice of show title…

“This is not a musical, nor is it a guide on how to beat up your dad. I don’t know your dad, he might be really hard.

“Our hero, Amon, has a lot of emotional issues tied up in his experiences with his Dad when he was a child. The show starts with Amon as a pre-teen upset because he hasn’t been allowed to come to his own dad’s wedding.

“The play then follows Amon into adulthood and becoming ‘a man’ via some pretty terrible experiences. Finally, he wants to confront his father and get some closure but the man he returns home to isn’t the alpha male he grew up in fear of. Now he does meditation and has started wearing beads.”

What do you love about dark comedy? Your songs with Bonnie Milnes in The Lungs and Gwen occupied that terrain too.

“I think comedy is a brilliant vehicle for making a point without boring people. Serious issues can be very serious and often no fun to talk about.

“Comedy allows people to enjoy thinking and learning; comedy makes things that are hard to swallow much much easier to swallow. Personally, I’d rather have a laugh than a scowl but that doesn’t have to mean the content of discussion can’t be an important one.”

There’s nudity in the show…why?!

“People are paying whatever they want to for a ticket, so I want them to feel they’ve got their money’s worth.”

In a field of their own:: Albert Haddenham, front, and Theo Mason Wood contemplate masculinity in How To Beat Up Your Dad

One reviewer called The Caravan Guys’ comedy style “punk, a bit scary, Berkoff, brave”, How would you define it?

“We blur the lines between fiction and reality: the story tells one narrative, of masculinity and how trauma is inherited and shared, how victims become perpetrators. As we shift between characters and ourselves we tell another, deeper and darker narrative about us as men: our competitiveness, our need to dominate, to show off, to win the play.

“Our  work is raucous and violent. It is completely free form. We drag the audience through styles, times, places and people to show all the insidious ways masculinity gets its claws in.”

What else are you up to, Theo?

“Currently I perform comedy music under the title Jean Penne and I’ll soon be releasing a small book of short stories.

“Meanwhile, me and Albert are going to continue to try and become the Simon and Garfunkel of dark comedy. After selling out a number of shows in Manchester and London, we look forward to bringing the explosive How To Beat Up Your Dad to Leeds and Bristol in February, the Brighton Fringe in May and Cambridge in July.

“We’ll then take the show to the Edinburgh Fringe and the rest of the world (Bridlington) and then get cracking on the next play.”

Caravan Guys Theatre Company in How To Beat Up Your Dad (The Musical), at Slung Low’s The Holbeck Theatre, Leeds, February 9, 5pm. Box office: via, at or on 0843 208 0500. Please note, this is a Pay What You Decide After The Show performance.

Interview copyright of The Press, York, from July 23 2019