Like Thomas McCrudden in Doubting Thomas, the former convict at the heart of A Man Standing also portrays his younger self as a lost boy, trying to run with the tough guys and getting utterly overwhelmed. In this piece, the violence is more psychological. Prison beatings and suicide are again prominent features, but what strikes the audience most is the savagery that solitude wreaks on the mind.
Sent to prison at age 17 for the inadvertent manslaughter of a policeman, Jean-Marc Mahy faced the full wrath of the justice system. He was locked away for 20 years, three of which were in total solitary confinement. White tape makes a box centre stage; a single stool stands inside. This is Mahy’s cage, where, for over an hour, actor Stephane Pirard will recall young Jean-Marc’s ordeal. All the while watched over by the older Jean-Marc’s hauntingly direct eyes.
Indeed it is Jean-Marc’s unrelenting stare that gives the piece its power. Knowing that Pirard is acting makes it difficult not to analyse his contortions within the cell as melodramatic, over the top, all too ‘acted’. Yet, Jean-Marc’s gaze jolts you back into the knowledge that this is not mere dramatic exercise. His eyes pierce all the action – all description of the torment of confinement are contained in his eyes. His eyes truly appear to have been to hell and back.