Boy follows Liam, a NEET (not in education, employment or training) as he drifts around London. Miriam Beuther’s high impact set conveys the pace of the city with a conveyor belt circling the stage, deftly creating bus stops, doorways and waiting rooms.
We follow Liam as he meets classmates, drug dealers and policemen. His destination is Oxford Street but nothing goes to plan.
The play doesn’t have a clear narrative driving it forward – there’s a lot of wandering (and wondering). But it feels urgent and maintains momentum. London vignettes signpost the play; a crowded job centre, a crowded bus, a crowded city.
Director Sasha Wares skillfully balances those crowds. Liam is increasingly left onstage alone for reflection. It’s at those moments, when the busy stage is emptied, that Boy interrogates the audience; whose responsibility is Liam? What are you going to do about it?
The talented young cast gives a rich cross-section of London’s diversity (still so underrepresented on stage). And Frankie Fox, playing Liam, makes an astounding professional stage debut. What is Liam feeling? Apathetic? Angry? Sad? Fox’s performance suggests all three, all at once. And it’s to Fox’s credit that the flashy staging doesn’t draw too much focus the titular Boy.
When Liam reaches his Promised Land, Sports Direct, the store’s letters are lit up like the Hollywood sign. They spin around the stage and the audience feels as overwhelmed as Liam. Smaller touches are nice too. The National Lottery’s crossed-fingers icon is slapped on the bus stop, like a Bat signal for austerity London.
Inevitably, some of the dialogue is drowned out by the furore of the spinning set. But the very confusion is an apt evocation of urbanity.
Occasionally, Boy’s direction and set design flatten meaning. When Liam lifts his fingers to imitate the National Lottery sign, all subtlety is lost. The conveyer belt stretches thin too, particularly for a climactic scene set in Sainsbury’s where the symbolism is big but not that clever.
But Butler’s script mostly keeps the play on track. Every time Boy leans too much into a Very Important Issue, he distracts us with a laugh; a clueless party girl here, a disgruntled businessman there.
The play ends on an unanswered question – though it asks many more of its audience. Butler avoids definitive answers but Boy adds an intriguing and urgent perspective to the conversation.
|What||Boy, Almeida Theatre review|
|Where||Almeida Theatre, Almeida Street, Islington, London, N1 1TA | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Highbury & Islington (underground)|
05 Apr 16 – 28 May 16, 7:30 PM – 9:00 PM
|Price||£10 - £38|
|Website||Click here to book via Almeida Theatre website|