One of the most memorable tunes from one of the most memorable musicals for me is ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’ from West Side Story. A youth is passed from pillar to post and back again, labelled and dismissed by various factions in society. No one particular profession or potential source of help is solely to blame – every psychiatrist has so many patients to see, every judge has so many cases to deal with. The themes explored in that tune are given more depth and detail in this most absorbing play.
There is quite an exhaustive list of characters in Boy, which almost reads like the acting credits of a motion picture. It is a bit daunting at first glance, especially when I’m looking at it in the few minutes in between taking my seat and the show starting. While there are (perhaps inevitably) different characters played by the same actors, it is a testament to the skill of Leo Butler’s writing that there is a specific, thought out reason for each character, be it The Third Older Schoolgirl or Trendy Young Bloke. I suppose, with some reimagining, some of these could be excised from the play, but it is ideally experienced with all the characters as they are.
Together with some inventive staging, especially for a play performed in the round, the large cast help to create a very genuine sense of time and place. No expense appears to have been spared on the set, either, with astonishingly accurate depictions of, for example, London Victoria Station, or a supermarket, the former resplendent (to my delight) with iconic Billy Elliot posters, and the latter complete with, fortunately or unfortunately, jarring ‘unexpected item’ announcements from the self-service machines. In many shows I find the sound effects distracting at best and wholly unnecessary at worst; here, they add to what transpires to be an immersive piece of theatre. The same goes for the simultaneous bits of dialogue that go on. It’s all very naturalistic; of course multiple conversations would be going on at the same time in a public place.
What’s even more incredible is that all of that, although wonderful to see, is not really the main point. We follow a day in the life of Liam (Frankie Fox, making a likeable professional stage debut), finding his feet both literally and figuratively, in a London that is efficient but ruthless, busy but unhelpful. There’s a lot more to it than the perennial youthful struggle of not being able to land a perfect job, or something close to it, because of lack of experience and yet unable to gain experience because that same person lacks a decent job. Fox’s Liam makes a highly convincing reticent and not-fully-articulate school leaver – what isn’t said speaks as much as what is – and of the large supporting cast, Duramany Kamara as (amongst other characters) Liam’s former classmate Lamari, and Bayleigh Gray as Liam’s half-sister Mysha, are distinctly memorable.
At least Liam knows who he is. When the title character in John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi emphatically declares, “I am Duchess of Malfi still!” it’s a moment of confidence and self-assertiveness. The equivalent moment in Boy, after Paula (Sarah Niles) repeatedly calls him ‘Stephen’, is even more significant – it’s a moment of hope. Hey, this boy can stand up for himself. Maybe he has a fighting chance in the big, bad world after all.
I can’t honestly identify with Liam’s situation, having gone from school to college to university to employment with not much in the way of downtime. There’s still a lot that is relatable in the course of the narrative, where daily frustrations are impressively portrayed in scene after scene. It’s a very accessible production, exploring contemporary issues without lecturing or offering a magic formula. There’s a lot packed into this one-act play – the stagehands are kept extremely busy throughout – and while it was not enjoyable in the sense that I might enjoy a feel-good musical or a comedy, it was certainly a deep and worthwhile experience.
Review by Chris Omaweng
At a bus stop.
Master of observation, Leo Butler casts a sharp eye over contemporary London and picks out someone for us to follow. Someone easily missed amongst the crowd.
Following last year’s ground breaking production of Game, the innovative director-designer team Sacha Wares and Miriam Buether return to the Almeida to bring this ambitious exploration of austerity era London to life. They are joined by an award-winning creative team and an exciting company of young actors, as well as supernumeraries recruited from the borough of Islington. For many of the cast Boy will mark their stage debut.
Written by Leo Butler, who has quietly established himself as one of the UK’s most talented political playwrights, Boyis an important new play about coming of age in twenty first century London.
For Boy, Sacha Wares is joined by a formidable creative team, including two powerhouse contemporary designers, Miriam Buether for set design (Game, Wild Swans, Sucker Punch, My Child, Generations), and Ultz for costume (Jerusalem, Hobson’s Choice, Fallout, Pied Piper), who will be collaborating with each other for the first time. Further creative credits include movement by Leon Baugh, lighting by Jack Knowles and sound by Gareth Fry.
The Almeida Theatre announces the cast for the world premiere of Boy, a new play by Leo Butler, directed by Sacha Wares. The cast is Mohammad Amiri, Osmain Baig, Ruby Bridle, Emilio Doorgasingh, Terina Drayton, Aeran Fitzgerald, Frankie Fox, Ellie Mai Gallagher, Bayleigh Gray, Zainab Hasan, Duramaney Kamara, Asiatu Koroma, Wendy Kweh, Lev Litvinov, Georgie Lord, Angel Loren, Teann McDonnell, Eugenie-Alexia Mulumba, Sarah Niles, Demi Papaminas, Imogen Roberts, Abdul Salis, Morgane Tapia,Peter Temple and Matthew Wellard. Boy will run at the Almeida Theatre from 5 April until 28 May, with a Press Night on 12 April.