By Roshan Jacob
Lion Theatre Company presents Boys as a glimpse into the broken world of four young men who are struggling to find their place. The play delves into their experiences living in a soon to be ‘ex-flat’ as tensions of the past come to the rise while friendship and loyalty are tested against the backdrop of a seemingly carefree party. To deem Boys easily the most relatable play I have come across as a University student would almost be an understatement. Touching upon the same issues of stress, insecurity and ambition that are sure to hit the right chord with practically any student at the University.
Most plays promise to be a sketch of real life, a practice of mimicry. However, Boys is a tribute to a gritty realism that proves itself far more comparable to a photograph of real life instead of a mere picture. With the seamless transition from playful banter to high strung tension, complicated portrayal of university relationships and an uphill ascent into adulthood- Boys begins and ends on the same captivating note. A great asset to the play is the City Theatre setting, the immediately intimate atmosphere ensured that we felt instantly acquainted with the characters as they walked on stage. The close- natured impact of the setting meant that the audience grasped a license to glimpse into the lives of four very different people. Furthermore, the endless line of beer bottles, the always open bag of flour and the cereal boxes instantly communicate a sense of ‘the normal everyday’. The play in its essence isn’t one associated with a grand sense of the ‘spectacular’ or the extraordinary, instead it is a snapshot of student lives in upheaval and thus it is the fact that three or four mere steps could take me onto the stage that makes the production all the more endearing.
Apart from the strength in the choice of setting and stage space, the lighting and sound- although subtle keep reinforcing the major themes of the play. At one point in the play, Benny (played by John Broadhead) looks out the window and his hopeful, contemplative face is caught by the light of the world outside. The moment could either capture his apprehension at the world outside his safe walls or his longing to achieve more in such a dog-eat-dog world. Either way, the poignant moment stood out to me as an incredibly clever but subtle manner of communicating the discomfort with which the character drudges through an unfulfilling life. In addition, the choice of soundtracks such as ‘Sweet Dreams’ that plays more than once during the course of the play highlights the themes of oppression, ambition and breaking free of the boundaries of everyday monotony. The fact that Benny’s soliloquys at times runs to typical ‘party music’ represents his fight against the tide. His passionate feelings are drowned out by the din of the world and in doing so, his attempts to foster or inspire change seem futile.
It would be hard to find a cast that truly embody each of their characters as well as the cast of Boys. Broadhead plays a lost, brooding and at times inspiring Benny who constructs himself as the moral voice of the group. Whether he is perched at the top of a refrigerator or gently encouraging his friend or angrily demanding an answer for his suffering, John Broadhead plays every emotion with a stunning sense of reality. The same can be said of Gayaneh Vlieghe who plays the part of Laura. Despite being a reviewer, there were genuinely moments I forgot that she was portraying a character. Jumping from moments that communicated the depths of despair to skipping along to work- Vlieghe impresses and astounds. This is not to say any other member of the cast is any less successful in bringing to life their characters.
The success in the portrayal of Cam (Hamish Lloyd Barnes) lies in the depths and heights of sorrow, joy and stress that he personifies as he contemplates his label as a musical prodigy. Joining him is Ed Chapman who plays Maack who successfully communicates the multi-faceted nature of the complex character and had the audience perplexed over what seemed to be his inexplicable choices. Opposite him, Angharad Philips brilliantly played his morally-questionable love interest that is constantly torn as she tries to find the ‘truth’ behind their relationship. The character of Timp however never failed to bring laughter but when the play reached its sombre notes, actor Jamie Prowse quickly slipped into the tone and mood, making his portrayal all the more believable and touching. However, there were some moments in which heavy dialogue seemed to slow down the pace of the play as it built up to its climax which is an issue that could be easily sorted by a cast and direction so talented.
Boys is powerful in every way. Whether the cast is throwing cleverly metaphorical but very literal trash bags at each other or a tender moment is brought to light where they question the choices they make- each moment is played with a stunning faithfulness to reality which makes it more than worth the visit.
Photograph: Mari-Liis Duglas