Boy by Leo Butler at the Almeida Theatre, Islington.
Guest Feature by Lucy Foxell:
Tonight’s impressive production of Boy, Leo Butler’s new play directed by Sacha Wares and designed by innovative designer Miriam Buether, is a political observation and exploration of austerity-era contemporary London.
The play is set in the round at the Almeida Theatre on a forever revolving travelator stage. The set design is very ambitious but brilliantly executed by the placing of significant objects which symbolise the setting: a series of doors for a housing estate; trees for the park; tube station ticket barriers and clever invisible seating (which had me guessing) for tube trains and doctor’s surgery. All of these set changes provide a challenge for the crew as they constantly and adeptly place ever-changing scenery on and then off from the moving conveyor, which in itself is quite some feat.
Throughout the play we are introduced to a series of characters, each representing a slice of urban society that as Londoners we have come to know, the druggies, the schoolgirls talking hash tags, students, road mender’s, stressed single parents, commuters, drunken clubbers, homeless men, policemen and security guards. All are executed with skillful observation by a 26 strong ensemble of unknown and predominantly young actors, for many of which it is their first stage appearance. Sasha Wares’ direction is acutely observed and movement director Liam Baugh creates a perfect fluidity.
However the star of this 75-minute show is newcomer Frankie Fox, who plays a naïve and gawky 17-year-old Liam, a role that he accomplishes with genuine vulnerability and great candor. Liam is a ‘NEET’ (not in education, employment or training), his phone isn’t working and he’s completely broke. An ‘underachieving white, working class boy’ who is representative of the demographic in South East London, where the play is set.
The narrative takes us on Liam’s bleak journey from West Norwood to Oxford Street’s Sports Direct in search for recognition and a purpose. The action takes place over 24 hours and en route he encounters a series of characters, all of whom Liam desperately and incoherently tries to communicate with without success, barely able to ever finish a sentence. At times, he is a little prickly, even angry at moments, but ultimately he’s compliant. He is lonely and invisible on the busy London streets as people come and go, preoccupied with their own day to day lives. Liam’s school friends have all moved on and left him behind and no one seems to have the time of day for him, including his parents, who we sadly never meet and we learn are working on ‘zero hours’ contracts, presumably affected by the austerity of the 21st century. We meet his younger half-sister, a 9-year-old way beyond her years, and clearly neglected, both are latch key kids with low aspirations and lack of support and facilities.
I was extremely moved by this bleak play. It echoed a stark message, depressing yes, but a powerful evening out and well worth a trip to Islington to see.
Boy is playing at The Almeida Theatre until 28th May.