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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Boy
Almeida Theatre  Spring 2016

Author Leo Butler and director Sacha Wares offer a bleak view of the dead-end lives of white urban dole-class youths in this almost action-less day-in-the-life picture of one 17-year-old London lad. 

With no job, no prospects and, most sadly, no inner resources of intelligence or imagination, the boy mopes his way through the day. In no particular order he hangs out at a bus shelter, tries unsuccessfully to chat up some schoolgirls, looks for an old friend who isn't home, watches some roadworkers, scrounges some discarded food, and hangs out at another bus shelter.

He hears that someone he used to know has gone shopping on Oxford Street, but central London might as well be be Timbuktu – he doesn't know how to get there, and having somehow got there he has no idea what one does on a shopping street. 

A couple of encounters with officialdom – doctor, job centre – merely demonstrate how useless they are when you don't know what to ask for, and when one adult asks what he sees his life as in five years, he can only stare blankly as if unable to process the question, much less find an answer. 

(Another playwright might have shown us some sparks of potential in the boy, so we had a sense of what is being wasted or lost, but this lad is already dead.)

It is, a few incidental nervous laughs (like an eight-year-old girl already fluent in obscenity) aside, an unremittingly bleak picture. 

Its problems as a play are two. First, it says pretty much all it has to say in the first ten minutes or so, and then has nothing to add but to say it again and again, with no development or enrichment of the picture, so that even running just over an hour it feels drearily long. 

And more cripplingly, to make the point that nothing happens in this boy's life, playwright Butler can come up with no dramatic vocabulary beyond making nothing happen in the play. 

The problem with that is that, unlike real life, a play – even a play about nothing happening – really does have to have something happen. They don't call it 'drama' for nothing, and a play that does not move forward in any way just lies there on the stage, never coming alive. 

(And don't throw Beckett at me. His plays are about what is happening when nothing seems to be happening. Butler's is about the fact that nothing actually is happening.) 

Director Sacha Wares does what she can to create a theatrical illusion of action and life where there is no dramatic action. The amoeba-shaped stage is rimmed by a moving conveyor belt so that there is always something going past our eyes and sets and incidental figures come to the central character without his having to go to them. 

A recurring bit of stage magic allows everyone to sit on chairs that aren't there, and in some of the particularly action-less scenes you may find yourself distracted by wondering how they do it – or, given the irrelevance of the gimmick, why. 

The cast of young and adult actors is augmented by local amateurs, bathing the production in the glow of community outreach and Good Works. Central actor Frankie Fox successfully creates the impression of a lad with no intelligence, no imagination, no prospects and no real identity.

Gerald Berkowitz


Review -  Boy  - Almeida Theatre 2016  
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