Isabelle Culkin talks to the director and cast of Castle Theatre Company’s upcoming production of ‘The Boy James’.
Inspired by the life and work of Peter Pan author J. M. Barrie, The Boy James is the story of one boy’s awakening to the harsh realities of adulthood.
A troubled James is confronted by the shadow of his younger self as he attempts to leave his disturbed childhood behind. Castle Theatre Company invites you by the hand to relive childhood with all the wonder and terror it brings.
How did you come across ‘The Boy James’?
George Rexstrew (The Boy): I first saw it in 2012 when it was performing at the Edinburgh Fringe. It was put on by a theatre company called Belt Up Theatre and the original production actually starred DDF 2015 judge Jethro Compton. To be honest it was just the most memorable play I saw and I thought it would resonate well with a student audience. It’s a one hour piece, it’s interactive, but it’s quite an experimental show, so it’s almost like a project.
Kate Barton (Director): Yeah, it’s more of a project than traditional strictly scripted speech.
You mentioned it’s interactive. Anything to say to those unconvinced or scared of immersive theatre?
Jenny Wasler (The Girl): No one will be strictly singled out, and if we can tell someone is recoiling in their seat, we’re not going to think ‘well I’m definitely picking you’.
KB: It’s immersive, but you’re not going to be made fun of, instead you’re just a part of their world.
Why do you think plays which reimagine the childhood or life of well-known authors are so popular? Do you think the audience will get more from this production if they know the story of J.M. Barrie?
GR: In some ways, we’re still young, we’re still growing out of childhood, and there are plenty of people who are still at uni who watch Disney films, so I think it’s a nice thing to reaccess that.
Hugh Train (James): Although you shouldn’t paint it as a nice piece of escapism, since you’re really getting hit by some crushing reality.
JW: There was a recent production of Peter and Alice, which certainly had dark undertones. I suppose there’s a trend for mixing kid’s stories with some very scary reality.
So would you say that it’s a show which relies on childhood?
GR: Yes, and improvisation is key, since the stage directions can be a bit vague, so we have tried to think of games the audience will be able to identify with.
How would you describe its tone?
HT: Nostalgic, bittersweet. Bittersweet with a really dark centre (laughs) like dark chocolate with more chocolate.
GR: In your responses, you’re always either really dark or really sarky.
HT: So it’s 75% cocoa solid with a 95% middle, if we’re going for this cocoa solid metaphor… I’m really selling this.
Who is the Boy James? Is it supposed to be J.M. Barrie?
HT: It’s easy to put it as that, but I think it’s a very open-ended piece, which allows you put yourself into it, and transpose yourself into the piece, and therefore it’s universally applicable, rather than it just being about J.M. Barrie. That would be too simplistic I feel.
KB: It’s more reflective on other people. It’s an analogy of growing up, which is based on real life to a certain extent, but there’s nothing that the audience should necessarily know about his life.
What have you found particularly challenging?
GR: It’s been different because usually for a show you just have your lines, but because this one requires a bit of improvisation, it’s been hard to improvise and feed off just Kate sitting there as our audience. When we actually perform it, every night will be different, because audience members will obviously react in different ways.
GR: “It’s a flobbert from Flobatia.”
Why should people come and see this production?
KB: It’s £3 for DST and Castle, and only an hour long.
HT: It’s short, sweet and harrowing.
‘The Boy James’ will be performed in Durham Castle’s MCR, Fri 1 May – Sun 3 May, 8:30pm.
Tickets: £3 DST/Castle, £4 Concessions, £5 Standard. Book your tickets in advance, limited seating capacity.
Photos: Isabelle Culkin