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Declan Bennett presents: Boy Out The City – Edinburgh Fringe

A heartfelt account of how Declan Bennett got to where he is now, this is one of those plays that time hops. Rather than starting at the beginning, the play kicks off in rural Oxfordshire, where Bennett and his boyfriend had moved to, joining the (relative) many who relocated out of London during That Pandemic, enjoying, as much as one could enjoy lockdowns without working in central government, life in the country – hence the show’s title, Boy Out The City. The boyfriend (who asked me if I could include Bennett’s show in my Edinburgh Fringe schedule) gets a job in Atlanta, a fixed-term contract, which leaves Bennett by himself. He tries to follow daily routines, but even these fall by the wayside at least partly thanks to their monotony, and with seemingly infinite time to reflect (he has presumably seen all he wants to see on Netflix), he begins to look back on his life. So it’s not a Covid story after all, y’see.

Declan Bennett in Boy Out The City
Declan Bennett in Boy Out The City

Raised in the Roman Catholic Church, with their attitude towards homosexuality being what it was and largely still is, there were people in his family who loved him no matter what. Watching a movie with a choir (yes, the one with Whoopi Goldberg) ignited a passion for music in Bennett, who promptly joined his school’s choir, the only boy to do so. Alas, and unsurprisingly, not every recollection was nearly as positive, and not just because there was a cancer diagnosis (I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say he survived). It’s hardly comfortable viewing, but it’s a highly compelling story.

I suppose many people in the LGBTQ+ community will be familiar with aspects of Bennett’s story, doing and saying what is necessary in the rough and tumble of the secondary school playground to survive. There’s nuance to the storyline, laced as it is with self-awareness, and while there’s much angst and suffering, it’s hardly on the level of A Little Life. The production focuses on the art of storytelling, with a mixture of poetry and prose, and only the necessary set and props on stage.

The show transfers to the West End for a brief period, presented as a double bill with fellow Fringe show Bloody Elle at the end of September 2023. It’s a highly engaging story, which holds people’s concentration thanks to the sheer number of narrative strands, all told with warmth and charm.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Created out of writing from his own private journals, Declan Bennett (EastEnder’s Charlie Cotton) reflects on surviving the streets of Coventry in a NAF NAF jacket, discovering the Gay scene in 90s Soho, and confronting his Catholic school days. After moving out of London to wait out the final months of the pandemic initially with his boyfriend, Declan unexpectedly finds himself alone in the Oxfordshire countryside. In his isolation, he is forced to face the demons of his past on a messy journey through the turbulent world of toxic masculinity, homophobia, and men’s mental health. From the lonely aisles of Hobbycraft to the bright lights of New York city, this is the story of a man in desperate search of identity when confronted with sudden unexpected solitude.

Company information
Developed and directed by Nancy Sullivan
Written and performed by Declan Bennett
Produced by Lauren Reed

Declan Bennett presents: Boy Out The City A raw autobiographical play exploring toxic masculinity, homophobia and mental health Underbelly Cowgate, Big Belly, 3 – 27 Aug 2023

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