As Christmas approaches and the theatres finally get to do some (socially distanced) opening and my first trip out of the festive season was to the Charing Cross Theatre to see Paul Harvard’s GHBoy.
Robert (Jimmy Essex) is a thirty-something gay man for whom Peter Pan is not just a story, it is a philosophy of life – never grow up. Robert likes nothing more than to go clubbing with best mate Jasminder (Aryana Ramkhalawon), meet random men (Sylvester Akinrolabu) via Grindr, do some chems and generally end the night with a proverbial bang. However, rather like Peter Pan, Robert is a bit of a lost boy looking to find a way home. He knows what is doing is dangerous – recently there has been a swathe of young gay men dying unexpectedly. He has also had major changes in his life with the death of his father which has brought him closer to his mother Debbie (Buffy Davis).
And his boyfriend, Sergi (Marc Bosch), has proposed. With all this going on, Robert decides to seek help and starts an unusual form of counselling with Simon (Devesh Kishore) who tries to help the Peter Pan of Gay-Town finally grow up and face the realities of his life.
I have been to the Charing Cross Theatre many times over the years, and have always liked the place, so knew what to expect when going through the doors into the auditorium. Turns out I was completely wrong. For this production, the theatre has been reconfigured. Gone is the traditional stage at one end, with rows of seats flowing back and up from it. Instead, the seats have been moved to form a thrust stage in the middle of the space. This created a few problems, and from where I sat, it was impossible to really see Bettina John’s set. I did stop to check it out before leaving, and it was really great. Additionally, the normal problems of characters having their backs to part of the audience at times could have been frustrating, but Jon Pashley’s direction ensured everyone moved around well and, even when facing away, the actors’ projection meant every word was clearly heard.
Turning to the story, and, if I’m honest, Paul Harvard’s writing felt initially a bit slow and I wasn’t too sure what I was getting into – especially as the first scene was discussing a picture I couldn’t see. But, as the narrative moved on, I became more and more engrossed in Robert’s story. All the way through I found it hard to like the guy but, by the end, I understood him and, surprisingly for someone who has led quite an innocent life, I actually identified with elements of the character. There is a scene when Robert is with his mother, discussing his father, that really struck a chord for me, as Robert voiced many of the questions I have asked myself since the death of my own father. A beautifully written scene that was wonderfully acted by Jimmy Essex and Buffy Davis.
In fact, I have to mention the superb job done by Jimmy playing Robert. On stage throughout the show, he really was amazing, often taking part in multiple scenes at the same time and being in each one so convincingly that the audience never felt confused as to what was occurring. I also want to praise Sylvester Akinrolabu who plays five of Robert’s hook-ups. Robert has a definite type when he is seeking thrills and Sylvester really managed to reflect the sameness of each person, whilst making them all individuals. I’ve singled these two out, but all of the performances, including that of Geoff Aymer who is not mentioned in the synopsis above due to the no-spoiler rule, were first-rate and contributed to making GHBoy such an enthralling story.
To sum up, GHBoy is definitely not a Christmas show, but it is a really powerfully written piece that reflects life today for probably way too many people, who refuse to succumb to the passing of the years. Apart from sight-line issues, the production works really well and, although a slow burner, I found myself really gripped by Robert’s story and, by the end I had got so emotionally connected to him, Sergi, Debbie, Jasminder and Robert that I left wishing them all the best for the future.
Review by Terry Eastham
The burgeoning party scene of East London hides a dark secret: a swathe of young men dying unexpectedly, with whispers of an unnamed killer. In the midst of all this, Robert is grieving the death of his father. He desperately wants to be a better person, but trapped in a pattern of substance abuse and infidelity, he has a lingering fear that he will never find love and acceptance. Unexpectedly, his boyfriend Sergio proposes, compelling Robert to turn his back on addiction and self-sabotage – before he destroys this final chance at happiness. But first, he must confront a truth buried deep within his subconscious, something he himself doesn’t yet fully understand.
This brand-new piece of theatre tackles the misconceptions around gay culture and promiscuity. Something far more ominous is driving men like Robert to the point of self-destruction…
Cast: Sylvester Akinrolabu (Devon/Calvin/Chima/Josh/Delroy /William), Geoff Aymer (Benjamin), Marc Bosch (Sergi Castell), Buffy Davis (Debbie Finch), Jimmy Essex (Robert Finch), Devesh Kishore (Simon Waring), and Aryana Ramkhalawon (Jasminder Panghal).
By Paul Harvard
Directed by Jon Pashley
Charing Cross Theatre
The Arches, Villiers Street, London WC2N 6NL