at the Soho Theatre, Monday 4th June 2012
Since the British public were treated to a Conservative government, there seems to me to have been a drive towards plays which contemplate big issues surrounding modern life; Mike Bartlett is at the forefront of this wave of Big Issue plays (I’ll come up with a better name in time), with the likes of Laura Wade and Headlong following suit with Posh and Decade respectively. For my money, I’d be willing to bet that, like it or not, this style of theatre will become more and more popular in the coming years. Ella Hickson’s Boys is a step in this direction, cementing a style of theatre which embraces theatricality as a way of tackling sprawling topics.
Hickson’s play is set in an Edinburgh flat, in which Benny, Mack, Timp and Cam live (the first two are students, the latter living there as the rent is cheaper). It is the end of exams and the quartet party regularly, boozing and snorting the nights away. The bin bags have been piling up for weeks as the council refuses to remove them; Benny thinks this an outrage whilst Mack argues they are not “entitled” to free rubbish collection and fails to see why he should do anything about it. Hickson here shows a disenfranchised and hopeless youth, for while many are out protesting, the vast majority are sat at home wasting time. References to Disney throughout signify a desire to hold on to innocence and a time when fairy-tale endings were possible. It’s a clever trick; you’d be surprised by the number of times Disney is discussed and played by students in 2012.
The slowly accumulating bin bags are symptomatic of an underlying strain, for they bring out both protesters and police who proceed to face-off whilst the boys and their girlfriends party in the flat (Benny recounts the story to us from the window). After the big bags are heaved into the flat at the demands of the police, they cannot stay dormant for long, and in a rather beautiful moment the bags and their contents are thrown around the stage in a sort of binman’s ballet. This is where Hickson’s awareness of theatricality truly shows itself, and the detritus is left strewn around the flat for a long time afterwards.
The storyline surrounding Benny and his recent past (*highlight for spoiler* his brother recently hung himself) feels somewhat unnecessary to the narrative, though it’s clear he represents the death of one final hope for this generation, who have now been made devoid of ambition and power since their collective voice is listened to less and less. Those who want to fight are laughed at and ridiculed.
Robert Icke’s production, though a little slow, captures these images of loss and protest with some simple theatrical flair on an otherwise naturalistic set (Chloe Lamford). Samuel Edward Cook, Lorn Macdonald and Tom Mothersdale as Mack, Cam and Timp are frustratingly carefree and fail to notice the shift happening right outside their window. Equally, Laura and Sophie, played by Alison O’Donnell and Eve Ponsonby are not aware that the lives they are living have become pointless. It is only Benny who seems to care about the world around him, and Danny Kirrane’s endearing and open performance commands our sympathy.
Boys is not without its faults; the second act could do with some cuts and there are at times too many questions raised (interestingly, these are the same accusations which have been levelled at Bartlett in the past). But it manages to capture a mood among young people which straddles the line between wanting to do something but feeling powerless. Hickson, I suspect, will write better plays on similar subjects, but here we are witnessing the germination of a new era of playwriting in theatre. I don’t know exactly what it looks like yet, but I’m pretty sure it’s coming.
Pinterest board here: http://pinterest.com/danhutton/boys-by-ella-hickson/