Theatre Group’s first production of the semester attracted a buzzing crowd to the Banham theatre this week as we sat down to witness Boys. As MGMT’s ‘Kids’ faded out (an ironic choice), the lights revealed an all too familiar sight: a student kitchen, post-party. The set consisted of a chaotic display of empty bottles, deflating balloons and bags upon bags of rubbish, hinting at the similarly chaotic lives of the students that spilled out messily in front of our eyes in two hours of frighteningly naturalistic theatre. The choice to take on Ella Hickson’s award-winning play is a decision that has to be applauded. With themes including a confused cocktail of drug abuse, relationships and strained dreams of the future, this stripped-back interpretation was able to bring a raw intimacy to Hickson’s script.
The narrative followed a houseful of four boys and their female counterparts, Laura and Sophie, who were approaching, and trying to escape, the reality of finishing university and being forced into the adult world. The audience was drawn in as each character was convincingly developed by the close-knit cast of six. The variation in lighting was used effectively to give the audience an abstract insight into the darker sides of the friends as they littered their problems over the stage. With the claustrophobic one-room setup, it wasn’t long before clashes occurred and secrets were spilled.
The story was uncomplicated and yet the audience’s superior, all-seeing position made us complicit in the countless dilemmas that tore apart the students, driving them to extensive alcohol consumption and drug abuse. Such heavy topics were lightened by the regular use of comedy, yet even the laughter this generated seemed bittersweet. For example, we learnt that Timp was cheating on his girlfriend, Laura, it was alarming to find it humourous as she innocently commented on the evidence: “You’ve scratched your back, babe!” But jokes made at the beginning of the play rapidly turned sour as the worries and betrayals of the characters mounted up like the symbolic bags of rubbish that they suggested the council probably wouldn’t collect because “we’re students”. And this was one of the most striking things about the whole play; it was fueled with common worries that a student-filled audience could undoubtedly recognise and empathise with.
Boys was presented to the audience, through Chloe Beddoes’s effective direction, almost like a fly-on-the-wall documentary, making the piece strangely chilling. The script was scattered with nuggets of realisation that comes with the fear of growing up, from the poignant interactions between characters to the posters that loomed in the background like thoughts in the back of minds: “life is full of difficult decisions”. One of the biggest successes of this play was the complexity of the characters that were stripped in front of our eyes, juxtaposed with childhood memories until they seemed even less ready for the ‘real’ world than at the play’s opening. But the message we were left with was in the final scene. Cam, a gifted violinist, injured his hand in such a way that he would never play again but instead of despair, Cam found liberty in this realization. He could now break free from expectation and stray from the “path”, perhaps alluding to the fact that we are all in control of our futures; the unknown can be shaped into whatever we want it to be.
Image: Theatre Group