Home » London Theatre Reviews » Do You Really Want To Hurt Me at The Old Red Lion Theatre | Review

Do You Really Want To Hurt Me at The Old Red Lion Theatre | Review

Do you Really Want To Hurt MeWhen you were a kid, did virtually every adult you ever met tell you ‘ah yes, schooldays, best years of your life’? I know I got told that a few times. Of course, for some people, the days at school are easy, fun and enjoyable. For others, those that may be a little bit different, they can be your worst nightmare come true. A fact that is at the heart of Ben SantaMaria’s play Do You Really Want to Hurt Me, at the Old Red Lion, Islington

Performed by Ryan Price, Do You Really Want to Hurt Me is a one-act monologue of a gay boy’s time at senior school in Exeter in the mid-1980s. Starting in 1984, we follow the boy’s story as he tries to come to terms with his sexuality and becoming a man at a time when homophobia was rampant and the AIDS virus had become newsworthy, with media outlets talking about the ‘Gay Plague’. Fortunately the boy has a Walkman and, thanks to the wonders of tape deck players and the Top Forty show on Radio 1, he can sink into a world of music to get him through the day of bullying and both verbal and physical assaults from his school contemporaries who feel the ‘gay boy needs to be taught a lesson every day. The boy’s life is not good and every day he contemplates, almost wistfully, his own death as a way of ending his tormented life. However, maybe there is the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel and just maybe, finding some creative outlet for his pent-up emotions, will give the boy the chance of seeking relief and maybe realising he isn’t alone after all.

Wow, this is powerful stuff. I’ve no way of knowing if any of this is autobiographical, based on others’ experiences or just sprung from Ben SantaMaria’s mind. Whatever the answer to that one, Do You Really Want to Hurt Me really connected with me on many levels. Though I was never physically bullied, I was called various names at school for being different and it took me a long time – and a lot of effort – to be accepted, if grudgingly. Covering a three year period, Do You Really Want to Hurt Me manages to evoke so many emotions, and thoughts that it could become overwhelming. Thankfully Ben, who also directs the piece, has written some lovely humorous portions to the narrative that manage to break the atmosphere, for example, the truly graphic and hilarious story of how the boy becomes vegetarian every moment of which I could picture vividly in my mind.

In order for a monologue to be successful, it needs two things: a cracking script and a superb actor to deliver it, and Ryan Price fits the bill perfectly. There is a lovely wide-eyed innocence on his face when he first takes to the stage and – with his lovely Devon accent – haltingly tries to find a good starting point to tell his story. The delivery is very natural in sound and look and there are wonderful moments when the boy just dances away – to a superb number of 1980’s songs – allowing himself the freedom to enjoy the music and be himself. I think the only issue I have with the story is that the boy’s parents seemed completely oblivious to what was happening. In one way I can understand that, but when the boy was being punched in the face I’m surprised they didn’t seem to notice any physical marks. Perhaps they did but the boy doesn’t mention it. It just felt like a bit of an anomaly to me.

However, when monologues work, they really work. The small performing space at the Old Red Lion lends an extra level of intimacy to Ryan’s performance and Ben’s words so that you, sitting in the audience, really do travel with the boy until he finishes his tale and heads off to his future, with the hopes and prayers of me and every other member of the audience going with him.

Ultimately, Do You Really Want to Hurt Me is a story of one boy’s struggle to accept himself and be accepted in an era when acceptance wasn’t the norm. I’m sure that we would all like to believe that no child today has to go through what the boy did in 1984 but, as Stonewall’s research in 2017 showed, “almost half of all LGBT pupils still face bullying at school for being LGBT, and more than two in five trans young people have tried to take their own life” so perhaps things haven’t moved on as much as we would like which makes plays like Do You Really Want to Hurt Me even more relevant and something that everyone should get the opportunity to see and experience.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Exeter, 1984. How do you survive being gay at high school with only Culture Club, Eurythmics and Tears for Fears on your side? A funny and painfully honest solo performance about beating the bullies with the magic force fields of pop music and acting in school plays. Raw confessions from an era when being picked on for a sexuality you barely understood felt more like Orwell’s 1984 than the real one. A bittersweet celebration of a time when you revelled in the innocently uncool joys of Kajagoogoo like your life depended on it. Because maybe it actually did. First crushes. Dancing to your Walkman. Trying to tape the Top 40 without the DJ talking over it. Constant pressure to be straight. Act more “masculine”. A long time ago… but maybe not all that different from now. “Do you really want to hurt me?” Written and directed by Ben SantaMaria, performed by Ryan Price. Suitable for ages 15+.

Sunday 18th and Monday 19th February 2018
Old Red Lion Theatre, 418 St John Street, London, EC1V 4NJ


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