Theatrical wizardry meets austerity-era London in new play Boy – review

The Almeida's production about a young man coming of age combines inventiveness with compassion

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You get used to some theatres being turned upside-down and reconfigured for each new production. But Islington’s small Almeida has less flexibility than many, so it’s thrilling to walk into the auditorium for the premiere of Boy to find seats arranged along both sides of a moving travelator with the performers already in place, going round and round like abandoned suitcases on an airport carousel.

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Even more exciting, the cast of characters – hunched and hooded youths, disgruntled mother and son, tired workers bent over computers – are each suspended on their own invisible seat that is somehow concealed by their trouser legs to make them look as if they are floating, like those silver-painted Yodas that hang mid-air in tourist traps.

The lights don’t go down but the audience chatter is silenced by a character speaking on stage and we’re dropped straight into the play. Liam (played with conviction by Cradle to Grave’s Frankie Fox in his stage debut), begins talking to the woman next to him, his doctor, it turns out. But, other than a shockingly thorough investigation of what she presumes to be his “problem area”, she doesn’t really listen to her inarticulate 17-year-old patient and hurries him out of her office as soon as she can. 

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Frankie Fox as Liam (Image credit: Kwame Lestrade) 

Writer Leo Butler sets out his theme from the beginning – the bewildered Liam has just left school, he’s got no job, no money, no one to talk to and he’s going nowhere on the travelator that moves each scene along. What glides past our eyes is a series of fascinating vignettes of London life at the tough end, as the boy progresses through a job centre that can’t help him because he’s too young, friends who have outgrown him and people who don’t have time for him. In the most moving moment of the evening, he finally gives up and lies down to sleep rough.

Director Sacha Wares, designer Miriam Buether and movement director Liam Baugh have conjured magic and provided plenty to look at. The Almeida’s new production is the kind of thing to turn first-timers on to theatre for ever (especially at 75 minutes without interval). The small reservation is that the theatrical wizardry ever so slightly unbalances the production and occasionally the play itself is in danger of disappearing.

Boy is at Almeida Theatre until 28 May


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