views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Lost Theatre
24th November 2016


The ensemble of Boys

Photography © David Elms

The play might be named Boys, but as the song goes, "it wouldn't be nothing, nothing, without a woman or a girl." First class graduand Benny (Alexander Bird) is somewhere between highly ethical and overly self-righteous, depending on your view. His friend Mack (Henry Bauckham) is a deliberately contrary fellow, arguably with the morals of a cat, making his friendship with strait-laced Benny somewhat of a conundrum. The two are getting ready to leave university, forcing non-student fellow housemates Cam (Luke Farrugia) and Timp (Ross Kernahan) to also move out and move on. Cam is the next big thing in string music with Timp a chef, having previously decided to skip university in favour of getting a job and living like a student regardless. If the idea of spending two hours observing four grown but not grown-up men in a grotty student house seems a bit much, don't worry, the male characters are balanced out with two female leads and there are quite a few intriguing threads running through the script.

Hickman's writing is richly layered with so many different dynamics explored. Each of the six protagonist has a different relationship with each other as well as with the group. As Hickman feeds us more history, even the boys who initially feel like pathetic stereotypes begin to display an enthralling emotional depth. Everyone is more vulnerable than outwardly portrayed. Regular visitor Sophie (Jenna Fincken) in particular seems to delight in Benny's overprotectiveness and Mack's physical attraction to her, aware that Benny wouldn't approve for a whole host of reasons, enjoying the secrecy an trying to play the two boys against each other. She's confident and attention-seeking, yet when Timp's girlfriend Laura (Gabrielle Nellis-Pain) calls out her bravado, we realise there's a lot more to Sophie. As there is to Laura. Whilst the two women initially seem to be making up the numbers, a bit of late night girl talk cements their importance to the storyline and has us hooked.

The one missing character is Benny's brother and hints are initially dropped, before abruptly Benny loses it and the moment seems to have been bizarrely forgotten. There's dramatic effect and there's jarring, with the audience so confused they end up clapping. At the end of the production, the audience find themselves putting their hands together for the fourth time, which betrays the uneven pacing from director James Thacker. Boys is always engaging and relatable, however there are some sharp corners that stick out and distract. Despite these problems, the action is downright brutal and intense throughout, almost an attack on the audience. (Actually, depending on where you sit, you may be hit with some flying rubbish.) You feel the weight of all the emotions that have been kept hidden for so long and of the inescapable fact that life will never be the same again for any of the boys or indeed any of the girls.

Designer Mark Magill's set evokes memories of any grotty student house into which you've ever stepped foot. He recreates the typical setting with great detail and care. Amongst other things, the stage is decorated with mountains of black bin bags. Fairy lights, a traffic cone and other random mementos from nights out litter the kitchen, with Martin John Bristow's soundscape of retro tunes nostalgic and well designed.

There are admittedly parts that could be done better, especially with respect to how Benny's character is written and the overall pacing, however Boys is a surprisingly poignant and relatable production. Whether it brings back good memories or bad memories will depend on your experience of post-18 life, but it certainly will make you revisit your (misspent?) youth and empathise with those on stage.

Boys opened on 23rd November and runs until 26th November at Lost Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Stockwell (Northern, Victoria)

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