Fringe Theatre at the King’s Head – Strangers In Between:
The King’s Head Theatre is London’s first pub theatre formed in 1970, it is a small, intimate space, which enables the audience to feel completely ensconced and personally involved in the performance. A simple Proscenium Arch set depicting a men’s locker room provides a significant metaphor for the protagonist’s journey through boyhood.
Strangers In Between has returned to The King’s Head in Islington for a second production after a successful run last year, it was first staged at Sydney’s Griffin Theatre Company in 2005, where it broke box office records. Written by award-winning Australian playwright Tommy Murphy, it won the 2006 NSW Premier’s Literary Award for Best Play. The theatre’s artistic director Adam Spreadsbury-Maher directs it with great insight and sensitivity.
Sixteen-year-old Shane, has fled the rural, small minded bigotry and troubles of home to live in downtown Sydney, in the salubrious, notoriously gay area of King’s Cross. Naïve, and comically unaccustomed to living away from home he tries to find his way in the big city. Roly Botha plays Shane in his professional debut with such poignancy, humour and a pitch a perfect observation of adolescence; I think we could be seeing a lot more of him in the future.
Shane is far too young and guileless to have left the nest, adrift in the metropolis, the world seems an acutely scary place, fearful of the streets, he bolts his doors and windows in his lonely bedsit. He gets himself a job in small convenience store, where he meets and exchanges numbers with the twenty something and rather glamorous, charismatic Will, played with perfect credibility by Dan Hunter, who displays his versatility by also successfully playing Shane’s bullish older brother Ben in later scenes. Trying to come to terms with his sexuality and the opinions of others Shane is seeking sexual knowledge and approval, he embarks on an on-off relationship with Will. Initially, Will is unaware of Shane’s tender years as he tells him he’s 19, but as Will begins to understand and witness his vulnerabilities, he responds sensitively and a touching friendship ensues.
Stephen Connery-Brown’s plays Peter, an older gay man, with a genuine charm and a warm and approachable demeanour, he provides an avuncular figure, which guides and reassures Shane as he steers his way through the realities of the big wide world.
The first half was gloriously funny and at times quite explicit, there are no holds barred with sexual language, and a highly amusing, fumbling sexual encounter underneath the sheets between Shane and Will is cleverly navigated.
Tommy Murphy’s writing is effortless and astute, the characters are strong and believable and I found myself disappointed when it stopped for an interval. The second half takes a more serious turn as Shane is faced with his abusive brother Ben and the source of his demons, plus he is forced to face the bare realities of trying to survive in a grown up world.
Friendships become key, as Shane’s world comes crashing down, and it cumulates in a touching final scene where the three men come together and Shane is gently supported and guided to make some decisions about moving forward.
This is a charming and achingly honest coming of age story, which highlights the problems of a young teenager ‘coming out’ and facing fears of rejection. Witty and heartwarming with some beautiful performances, this is an uplifting start to 2017 that isn’t to be missed.
King’s Head Theatre
115 Upper Street, Islington, London, N1 1QN
Venue Box Office:
0844 209 0326
Fringe/Off West End
10 Jan – 4 Feb 2017