Boy by Leo Butler, Almeida Theatre, 16 April 2016

Oh boy, this is a good one.

We’ve enjoyed Leo Butler’s work before, at the Royal Court. We booked this basically on the back of remembering that we like his writing. We didn’t realise that this production also brought back the imaginative team, which brought us Game at the Almeida early last year; Sacha Wares as director and Miriam Buether as designer.

The Almeida’s website has lots of information about the production and also collates the good reviews. As a glance at the review headlines suggests that they have been more or less universally good, this Almeida link should be pretty much definitive. 

We knew that the Almeida had done something funky with the set and seating, because we had a call from the theatre last weekend, asking if we minded that that a rejig of the set and seating meant that there would be an aisle between our front row seats. We could either put up with that or sit together further back.

We politely suggested that it ought to be possible for them to shift people around such that we can still sit together in the front row; we asked the gentleman at least to try. A few minutes later, the nice gentleman called back with the good news that he had achieved our wish.

Just as well, as we observed on entry to the theatre that the aisle in question was more like a chasm than a small gap.

But soon enough we also observed that the characters on the set, who were going around on an industrial conveyor belt like human sushi in one of those sushi bars, were sitting in perfect sitting posture without seats. I worked out that they each must have a support in one of their trouser legs, but the effect was very eye-catching and warmed us up for a short evening of theatre with a difference.

It is hard to do this piece justice in the description. It is 70 minutes of edge-of-your-seat theatre in which nothing much really happens. We are simply following a young 17 year-old lad, Liam, around London on one of his interminable, listless days. Yet all around him (and therefore us) we see glimpses of London life that resonate wonderfully. We are also made all-too aware of the hopeless of such a lad’s circumstances.

In one telling scene, Liam goes to register at the job centre or some such, only to be told that he should return when he is 18 and find himself something useful to do in the meantime. “That’s nearly a year,” Liam yells, despairingly.

The mostly very young cast do a brilliant job, but Frankie Fox as Liam really does stand out. I recognised Wendy Kweh from our recent visit to North Korea as depicted in the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs – the irony of being reminded of North Korean hopelessness while being shown London hopelessness was not wasted on me.

But for us the star performance really is the extraordinary set and direction. The cast have to navigate some tightly choreographed scene changes and movements across the conveyor belt, plus those extraordinary “seats of their pants”, as it were. The wonderful movement elements of the production reminded us a little of Complicite; that’s a complement coming from us.

Lots to think about and talk about after the show, which is what good theatre is all about as far as we are concerned. As only tends to happen after really unusual and excellent pieces, that conversation started with strangers in the audience and some of the Almeida ushers before we’d even left the theatre.

One of the ushers told us that this production has not yet sold out – so if you are reading this fairly soon after the date in the headline, get on to the Almeida and snap up some of those remaining tickets.

This really is a hot ticket.

 

 

 

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