running until 26 Nov
With her newest play Oil running at the Almeida, the Lost Theatre has revived Ella Hickson’s 2012 work Boys. Portraying a group of students and hangers-on as they’re about to move out of their student digs, it’s a show stuffed with ideas: the end of innocence, the beginning of adult life, tangled relationships, suicide, grief, guilt and rioting on the streets.
First of all, Mark Magill’s set is fantastic in its detailed representation of a messy student flat. I’m thankful to say my own final year student house never quite got to that state, but there’s all the clichéd recognisable features: a stolen supermarket sign; boxes of Coco Pops mixed in the cupboard with bottles of spirits; a fridge stuffed with cheap beer; mismatched furniture and crockery; and a sleeping housemate waking up abruptly, worse for wear, still in his dinosaur onesie.
While Benny and Mac are set to graduate from Edinburgh University, Cam is on the brink of international stardom as a concert violinist, and Timp is turning 30 but clinging on to the student party lifestyle. The rather mismatched group of boys want to go out on a high (literally – drugs are ingested liberally throughout the show, from breakfast through to midnight), except for the troubled Benny. Still reeling from his brother’s suicide, he positions himself as the group’s moral compass, questioning their decisions. In the opening scene we warm to him for this, as the only one brave enough to challenge Mac and Timp’s questionable attitude towards women. Yet as the play continues he spirals out of control, excited by the burgeoning unrest on the streets and increasingly agitated at the actions of his flatmates and the visiting girls, his idealism clashing with Mac’s more cynical world view.
Alexander Bird (Benny) plays the complex role of Benny well, negotiating his mood swings and bubbling emotions. Opposite him, Ross Kernahan as Timp plays the antithesis of Benny: strutting through the flat barely clothed with his long hair flowing and constant partying, he’s like a young Russell Brand. Kernahan is the most entertaining of the cast by far, his confidence and exuberance both hilarious and irritating. Yet he also displays vulnerability well and makes these contrasts believable, particularly in his scenes with girlfriend Laura (Gabrielle Nellis-Pain). Nellis-Pain herself gives a stand-out performance: when we first meet her, Laura is loud, ditsy and, let’s be honest, annoying. Yet her character develops as we see her softer side, while her strength and capacity for forgiveness in the final scene reveals an admirable steeliness. Her scenes with Sophie (Jenna Fincken) are some of the most true-to-life of Hickson’s script.
Yet that’s one fault of the play – while the banter and silliness are absolutely believable, when the script deals with weightier issues and becomes more poetic, we often lose plausibility and the actors struggle with it. Particularly in the case of Luke Farrugia (as Cam) and Henry Bauckham (as Mac), the leap is too big between their everyday student chat and their heavier speeches, and there is a sense of stilted awkwardness. Hickson is trying to fit too much into this script, and her metaphors often land with a thud. Overall the cast do a good job of negotiating these hurdles, but they can’t evaporate them entirely. Boys is also about half an hour too long, as the central party scene begins to drag and lose energy: this production could do with some judicial cuts to the keep the energy up and focus in on the key moments that guide and twist the plot.
As the characters begin to head their separate ways – the party is over, life must begin – I felt rather short-changed by some of their fates. We’ve spent so long focused on 24 hours of their lives, as they teeter between childhood and adulthood, yet many of the issues are yet to be untangled. The cast of Boys have done a decent job with what it is a deceivingly tricky piece. It captures much of the uncertainty of youth, without providing many answers.
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