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Boy Parts at Soho Theatre | Review

Irina Sturges (Aimée Kelly) is an unreliable narrator if ever there was one, able to go into some detail about crimes against the person but is almost immediately thereafter unsure if they were, after all, committed. This stage adaptation is essentially an eighty-minute summary of a novel that took me somewhat longer than eighty minutes to read (I wasn’t, admittedly, timing myself), with miscellaneous extraneous bits excised from the narrative and other events altered, but still very much commensurate with the character as presented in the book.

Aimée Kelly in Boy Parts at Soho Theatre (c) Joe Twigg Photography.
Aimée Kelly in Boy Parts at Soho Theatre (c) Joe Twigg Photography.

The shock factor is evident as the storyline progresses, both as a result of what happens to Irina, and what Irina does to others – as the phrase would have it (not used in the show), ‘hurt people hurt people’. At one point, she even starts listing serial killers she has a degree of respect for, for want of a better word. Based in Newcastle, Irina is a photographer and videographer who uses male models in her work (hence the show’s title) and supplements her income from online photo and video sales by working at a bar – or is it the other way round? She is successful enough to be noticed by an art gallery in London, which showcases her work for a limited season, complete with a press launch with champagne and canapes and all the rest of it.

Irina has some charm, able to persuade men from various walks of life to participate in shoots in her studio, even ‘Eddie From Tesco’, who has his reservations about his face being shown in clothes-off shoots on account of his ultimate choice of career. He does, to his credit, have ambitions beyond spending the rest of his working life on the shop floor barking at people to use self-service machines, or whatever it is they do at Tesco. Interestingly, we don’t find out what happens to him in the end – does he realise his career ambitions? Once Eddie and whoever else Irina ropes in for her fetishist (a word I can type more easily than I can pronounce) and explicit collections, have served their purpose, so long as they don’t meet an untimely end, they simply seem to disappear, leaving a number of narrative loose ends by the curtain call.

Still, the production progresses at a brisk but not too brisk pace, and Aimée Kelly does well, as good solo performers do, to impersonate a large number of characters in such a way that it is easy to forget that she is unaccompanied on stage. Some still and moving images are projected onto a large stage-wide screen behind her, which goes well with Irina’s choice of vocation. Irina’s personal and professional lives are surrounded by people who have something or other going on with them (I could cite examples but that, alas, would be giving too much away), which makes the play as a whole feel more than a little contrived. But it also ensures there’s never a dull moment in the show.

If Irina Sturges were hypothetically male, would ‘he’ be able to get away with the sort of things she seemingly gets away with in this show? Probably not, and that is precisely the point the narrative is making. When she openly confesses to violence, she is just as openly laughed at. In this way, the show exposes how the double standards women face in society at large can sometimes have advantages, even if Irina is, quite rightly, palpably upset at not being taken seriously. This is a thoughtful examination of an intricately complex character, and it’s always a good thing when an eighty-minute show feels more like forty-five.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Irina takes erotic photos of average-looking men. Always behind the lens, she watches, she moulds, and she stalks. These boys are putty in her hands, just the way she likes it.

When the opportunity to show her photographs in a fashionable London gallery – “darling, you just don’t get chances like this in the North” – coincides with a new boy to obsess over, cracks begin to appear. How far can she push her new prey for the perfect shot, or has she already gone too far?

Aimée Kelly – Irina

Gillian Greer – Writer / Adapter
Eliza Clark – Book Writer
Sara Joyce – Director
Hayley Egan – Video Designer
Peter Butler – Set & Costume Designer
Christopher Nairne – Lighting Designer
Tom Foskett-Barnes – Sound Designer
Jacob Sparrow – Casting Director
Ryan Funnell – Production Manager
Katie Jackson – Stage Manager
Han Sayles – Assistant Stage Manager

Metal Rabbit Productions and Soho Theatre present:
Boy Parts
Based on the novel by Eliza Clark. Adapted by Gillian Greer.
Fri 20 Oct – Sat 25 Nov 23

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