The pre-show for The Invisible Boy comprised audience participation, of the mildest kind, inviting members of the audience to take a Post-It note and put down any initial thoughts, even just one word, about what the show title might mean or what expectations people might have. Had I joined in the fun I might have written, “Rebellion”. The only properly invisible boy I was aware of prior to seeing this production is Harry Potter, with his ‘invisibility cloak’, which only came out when he ‘needed’ to shield himself from being seen either by figures of authority or forces of darkness. Something, I wondered, must have happened to the said invisible boy in this particular play. Just having the show’s title isn’t much to go on, but I wondered if this was a tale about a child refugee, or a young lad ostracised by his local community because of some dark secret, or a physical deformity of some description.
In the end, without giving too much away, one of a group of four close school friends loses his rag in their school’s debating society, going off on an irrational tangent. They were discussing neither President Trump nor Brexit, which was arguably refreshing, but in any event, Ivan’s bizarre temper tantrum leaves him ostracised. His peers are more confused by him than anything else, and there’s more than surface level disagreement between schoolboys going on when Ivan (Kwame Owusu) finds himself shunned by Rahul (Bipanshu Sharma) and Kyle (Rares Maglan). Only Yusuf (Noah Rhilam) remains loyal, caught in the middle. At some point, the psychological distancing has a physical effect. The effect itself was not entirely convincing to me, but the consequences are nonetheless equally heart-rending and hilarious.
This, then, is a youth production where a swear word isn’t uttered every second breath (hurrah!), and the richer vocabulary that results from only letting out an expletive during a point of heartbreak or anger is a joy to listen to. It may even be slightly artificial to have lengthy, acerbic and articulate putdowns, as opposed to merely dismissing someone as an ‘effing cee’, but it makes for some strong dialogue – and more often than not had me chuckling, if not outright laughing. This particularly came to light as Ivan resolved to make the most of being unseen. The manner of speaking seemed convincingly contemporary. Apparently “bricking” is a term in common usage, though the meaning is very, very different to the phrase “You’re a brick” used by previous generations.
There are some very minor points about diction and projection that I would have made an issue of in an adult production. These are quite superfluous anyway: the attention to detail was commendable, with all four boys maintaining character throughout. The usual low-level distractions that go on these days when performing in front of a live audience were handled deftly. The staging is simple, yet effective. A long scene change, switching from a school environment to the great outdoors, had much of the audience in stitches. To misquote The Wizard of Oz, it was made quite clear that they were not in North London anymore.
In the latter half of the play, there’s a surprisingly compelling consideration of the supernatural, or at least feelings and emotions that don’t fit any of the traditional five senses. The sound effects are remarkably atmospheric, too, not overdone and well balanced, never drowning out dialogue. It was pleasing to note the earlier school debate about affordable housing was subtly relevant in a late plot twist. If these schoolboys were able to resolve their differences without outside intervention, this only serves to demonstrate how futile and infantile so many squabbles and disputes between adults truly are. A ‘bare’ fascinating and inspiring show, ‘innit, bruv’.
Review by Chris Omaweng
The Tricycle Theatre presents
As part of their fourth annual Takeover Mapping Brent
In association with the Wembley Young Company
The Invisible Boy
By Sonali Bhattacharyya
On Monday 3 April at 7:30pm and Tuesday 4 April at 2:30pm and 7:30pm
At Yellow Pavilion,
Engineers Way, Wembley Park, HA9 0EG
Director: Tinuke Craig