Review: Boy Takes A Troubling Twirl Through The London Jungle

Boy, Almeida Theatre ★★★★☆

By Stuart Black Last edited 25 months ago
Review: Boy Takes A Troubling Twirl Through The London Jungle Boy, Almeida Theatre 4
Frankie Fox as Liam. Photo by Alastair Muir.

Is there a smarter production in London at the moment than Boy? The Almeida theatre has been completely rejigged to cram in a giant conveyor belt around which people and props rotate like plates of sushi.

Among the passing Oyster card swipe machines, bus stops and supermarket checkout counters drifts Liam (Frankie Fox in a note perfect debut). He’s a wayward 17 year old kid from south London who has no idea how to negotiate the non-stop urban carousel.

Under the director/designer team of Sacha Wares and Miriam Buether, this unforgiving vision of the city resembles something between Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times and the alienating Babel of TS Eliot's The Waste Land. Over 80 characters come and go, many played by amateurs in a cast of 26, each one representing a familiar type yet all seeming real, no matter how fleeting as they push past each other and talk in constantly overlapping dialogue, sometimes in broken English and street slang, sometimes in other languages entirely. This linguistic mosaic is deftly put together by Leo Butler (read our interview with him here) who finds unexpected poetry between the pavement cracks.

It's hard for both Liam and the audience to negotiate all this information — what is useful? what is dangerous? what are the rules? — and it's clear that a failure to comprehend and connect will leave people like Liam exposed and increasingly prospectless.

The audience is visibly lit, with some standing on stage watching, and there’s an implication here that we are all culpable if we simply stand by as another soul slips though the cracks of Cameron's austerity-damaged Britain. We watch Liam mope from the JobCentre to the doctors, then encounter drug dealers and policemen, until the eerie silence of a night on the streets puts all the human chatter into stark relief.

It's a very short play and deliberately unsatisfying: you are left wanting more, wanting to know that Liam's story has a happy ending. Though of course, you know it probably won't.

Boy runs at the Almeida until 28 May. Tickets £10-38. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 14 April 2016

Jon Akin

I saw this today...first Leo Butler I have had the pleasure of sitting through..I felt it was a great piece of theatre and the actor playing Liam...what a talent!!!