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Market Boy by David Eldridge at the Union Theatre – Review

Market Boy - Image by Mark Senior
Market Boy – Image by Mark Senior

No less dazzling than an open-air Souk in the middle east, is the setting for Market Boy, David Eldridge’s riotous play, first presented at the National Theatre in 2006, about a 13-year-old boy with a tasty single mum who delivers him up to a medley of hardened market traders in 1985 Romford. The play opens at the height of Margaret Thatcher’s powers, capitalism is king and only the most devious will survive the brutality of a free-market economy.

Boy (Tommy Knight) is the sacrificial lamb thrown into this arena, an experience his mum (Amy Gallagher) believes will teach him how to survive in the world, but first, he must go through a brutal initiation process to prove he can handle the savagery of the market place. And handle it he does, adopting the swagger of a barrow boy and the pitch of a street hawker, he soon becomes the top trader of a shoe stall.

But even before Market Boy begins, and while audience members stroll in, its 21 actors argue among themselves, visit each other’s stalls, and establish the hectic life of the market place. Some venture off stage and approach the audience to offer their wares or to warn them of other dodgy characters in the play. It’s a joyous interaction that establishes the market place as a metaphor for the survival of the fittest and its opulent set design (Justin Williams) depicts perfectly the essence of the market as both heaven and hell.

When you browse through a market stall what are you looking for? Is it a pair of espadrilles? Or the possibility of a romance that will change your life? The barrow boys in Market Boy believe that men were put on earth to chase women and the ‘slags and slappers’ who saunter through the market place are simply frustrated prey waiting to be caught. If you are offended by a depiction of the sexes that categorises a male by the size of his penis, or a female by the size of her breasts, then Market Boy is not for you. But if you can revel in the language of an era that was not constricted by political correctness, one that exposes what lies beneath the veneer of civility, then you will enjoy Market Boy and its truth. Although the play spans the latter part of the Eighties, it is still the case in 2019 that any unregulated industry controlled by private owners is likely to diminish and degrade its own workforce, as well as turn labourer against labourer. After Thatcher’s free-market economy there was no looking back.

Apart from its plethora of brilliant 1980s pop songs, Market Boy is also replete with excellent performances, among which a special nod is warranted for cleaver-wielding Meat Man (Grant Leat) who delivers a delicious monologue on the preparation of filet mignon and its accompaniments. When it comes to vegetables, Meat Man meticulously explains the benefits of steam to boil. It’s a wink to the advantages of being in the EU and the increasing sophistication of the British palate.

As I watched its many characters make their entrances and exits, often in an argumentative state, I marvelled at the ability of director Nicky Allpress, and choreographer Adam Haigh, to create a seamless flow of movement and narrative in such a physical piece. They, along with all the creatives involved, have gifted us with a flawless production.

At the finale of Market Boy, a character says: As long as there are poor people, there will be a market for them. To this I will add: As long as there are revivals of Market Boy, there will be an audience for it.

5 Star Rating

Review by Loretta Monaco

There is an art to selling stilettos and you’d better grasp it. Learn a good wind-up, learn the pull of the cash, learn drugs, learn sex, and run wild with the market monkeys. Stay sharp in the ruthless world of the Essex traders. Romford Market, 1985. This boy has everything to learn.

Market Boy premiered at the Royal National Theatre on 27 May 2006 and is now coming to the tiny Union Theatre.

CAST: Claudia Archer, Michael Ayiotis, Helen Belbin, Mat Betteridge, Esmonde Cole, Lily Cooper, Joey Ellis, Drew Elston, Rachel Fenwick, Amy Gallagher, Taylor George, Callum Higgins, Jamie Hogarth, Tommy Knight, Grant Leat, Joe Mason, Forest Morgan, Georgina Seville, Katy Slater, Andy Umerah, Lucy Walker-Evans, Oliver Westlake.

Director – Nicky Allpress
Choreographer – Adam Haigh
Designer – Justin Williams
Lighting Designer – Alex Musgrave

By David Eldridge
16th April to 11th May 2019


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