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Scenes with boys at Riverside Studios | Review

In a (sort of) coming-of-age story, Robbie, Jamie and Freddie are good friends. Freddie is seeing an off-stage character, Lib, although that relationship eventually goes sour, for reasons not entirely made clear. No programme or cast list was made available to the audience, so I haven’t a clue what the actors’ names are – and arguably more pertinently, I can’t say with certainty what characters’ pronouns are. When there are references to “cisgender bullsh*t”, and one character corrects another for failing to keep up with a third character’s changed preferred pronouns, the production has missed a trick in not telling the audience, one way or another, what the pronouns of all the characters are.

Scenes with boys at Riverside Studios

Anyway, the long and the short of it is that Robbie, or Ro as they (for the sake of argument) are known has strong feelings for Jamie, or Jam as he is known to Ro. But it takes considerable persuasion from Freddie for Ro to actually say anything directly to Jam, and when they do, they discover their feelings aren’t reciprocated. The devil is in the detail, however. The dialogue veers between naturalistic reluctance, insecurity and hesitation, complete with unfinished sentences aplenty – and poetry. The poetry may not be the most eloquent, but at least there’s a level of confidence and clarity to it.

This, then, is one of those shows that’s more about the journey than the destination. The characters are supplemented by an ensemble cast of five non-speaking parts and an additional late entry, which I won’t say anything more about as it involves a plot twist that would be giving too much away. The dialogue touches on a number of topics and themes that seemed to resonate with members of the audience in a similar age group to the characters (and the actors who play them) – that is, undergraduates. Some topics are only dealt with briefly, such as the difficulties inherent in finding affordable accommodation in London, which isn’t, of course, something that only affects the young.

More time is devoted to the struggles Ro in particular has with their identity: when Freddie asks them to describe what ‘boyhood’ is, it takes several attempts before reaching an answer congruent with their life experience. The three musketeers are bookworms, quoting various literary figures – though it must be said that watching other people reading quietly doesn’t exactly make for riveting theatre. On the other hand, seeing a group of twentysomethings reading paperbacks is rather unusual these days – there wasn’t a smartphone in sight. Well, there were phones, but in different scenes and in different contexts.

The final scene was intriguing, strongly suggesting there was a kernel of truth to the narrative, and providing some insight into how the play was constructed. It is almost too good at portraying people still growing up, still unsure of themselves, still unable to articulate their position on just about anything succinctly and with confidence. Pressures to conform to what society at large deems ‘normal’ add an extra layer of complexity. Not an easy watch, though this challenging and compelling production is brought to life by a committed and convincing cast.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

The story starts at freshers. The play starts with a nosebleed.

Thrown together by university, three “boys” begin to realise just how difficult love is to communicate and how easy it is to misunderstand. Hookups and poets and beer mats aren’t intervention enough; for them, and for as long as possible, it’s just Ro, Jam and Freddie.

Ro – Cavan Malone (they/them)
Jam – Joe Harrington (he/him)
Freddie – Ki Griffin (he/they)
Boy – Jay Lafayette Valentine (they/them)
James – Luc de Freitas (he/she/they)
Robbie – Archie Bush (he/him)
Shoal of Boys – Rachel Andrews (she/her),
Daze Hingorani (they/he), Matisse Ciel Pagès (they/them), Elliot Douglas (he/him)

Director / Writer – Sam Smith (he/she/they)
Assistant Director – Liam John (he/him/they)
Producer – Gabriele Osella (he/him/they)
Intimacy Coordinator – Ru Lawrence (they/them)
Dramaturgs – Danielle James (she/her), Cavan Malone (they/them)
Contributing Dramaturgs – Kit Miles (they/them), Cherry Eckel (she/they)



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