Boy – London theatre 2

I had expected Boy, written by Leo Butler at the Almeida Theatre in London, to be more like Yen.  Or Simon Stephens’ Punk Rock.  Or Vivienne Franzmann’s Mogadishu.  Billed as ‘an important new play about coming of age in 21st-century London’, I thought it would be gritty, aggressive, full of conflict.  But it’s not like any of those at all.  In fact it can only just be described as a play.  The closest the lead character, Liam, comes to conflict is when he rubs (not even scratches) his name on a bus shelter.

Set on a stage that resembles a Yo Sushi conveyor, Liam’s day happens around him, loaded on and off the conveyor.  Scenes are set and unset in a job centre, a doctor’s surgery, a bus shelter, a row of front doors, all on this conveyor, going round and round for the full length of the play.  It takes time to settle into the pace and the fact that nothing really happens to Liam.  And it is this nothingness that makes Boy such a fascinating play; the aimlessness and pointlessness of this one life in the face of everything modern politics and society can throw at it, or him.

Frankie Fox is perfectly cast and weaves a strong performance as Liam.  Supporting are an impressive cast of 18 actors, including 7 making their professional debut, who flow in and out of the story to create each scene in sequence.  Timing is everything, and people and props are in a constant flux onto and off the set, perhaps reflecting the busyness of daily life in London.

But is this a play, or is it performance art, or even physical theatre?  Well, the dialogue is fascinating, throwing up its fair share of humour.  The various situations build gradually through the play to create an increasingly marginalised and ultimately sad character.  There is no question that we start to see the world through Liam’s frustrated and resigned eyes, and the feeling we are left with is similar to coming out of more confrontational modern plays.

Almeida Theatre London until 28 May 2016.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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