As I was watching Leo Butler’s new play BOY, I couldn’t help remembering Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls and Marlene’s cruel observation that Angie was not going to make it. I wonder what Marlene would have to say about Liam, a 17-year-old boy from South London who is barely articulate and seems entirely clueless as to what he is going to do with his life. According to recent research, white British boys from poor families are far more at risk of being underachievers, with little hope of a future than other groups. The ongoing austerity cuts are unlikely to improve the situation.
We spend a day with the protagonist as he aimlessly drifts through London, starting off at his GP where he is unable to express himself so she quickly just checks him for an STD (as, the waiting room is full, his allocated time is up and so she just makes an assumption about his visit). As Liam is walking down the street, set pieces change to bus stops and house doors. Unable to call anyone (as his mobile phone is not working – forget about a smartphone) he physically checks whether his friend Lamari is home and ends up making an awkward pass at Lamari’s neighbour. Wasting time in the park, he overhears two schoolgirls arguing about posting photos on social networks and is immediately reminded by a woman that these girls are only 14. Liam is alone, disconnected from his friends because his mobile phone doesn’t work and he doesn’t have any money. Nobody speaks to him except for a lost tourist whom he is unable to help. Liam doesn’y seem to have any family until he runs into his foul-mouthed 9-year-old sister Mysha (an impressive stage debut by Ellie-Mai Gallagher) who appears to be far more self-assured than her older half-brother.
A return to Lamari’s flat leads to an unpleasant encounter with his friend’s mother who is not happy to see him, calling him by any name but his own. For once he insists on being treated with respect. Setting off to Sports Direct at Oxford Street in the hope of finding Lamari, poses as much difficulty to Liam as finding the Holy Grail. By the time he makes it to Sports Direct, it is closing and he is brutally thrown into the street by security.
This bleak tale about an alienated teenage boy, is an outstanding stage debut by Frankie Fox. He drifts through a forbidding world, mocking him with goals he will never achieve and things he will never be able to afford. Staging is beautifully designed by director Sacha Wares and designer Miriam Buether who creates the busy city of London using a travellator that never stops moving throughout the show, orbiting around the centre of the stage with the audience seated on all sides. Props change into a GP’s surgery, a park, a housing estate, the tube, and a supermarket with tills and an automated voice. The actors seem to sit on invisible seats, magically suspended like street artists pretending to be statues to make a pound or two. Gareth Fry’s sound design resembles the beating heart of London as we travel the roads with Liam.
At times the complex design distracts from the narrative but this austerity play remains an impressive and important production.
Reviewed by Carolin Kopplin
Photo: Tristram Kenton
BOY is playing at the Almeida Theatre until 28th May