The Boys in the Band, Park Theatre, London — assessment

It is shocking that this was shocking just a few decades ago basically simply because of its topic matter. In 1968, the year ahead of Stonewall, Mart Crowley filled a stage with openly gay characters — a ground-producing moment. Adam Penford’s revival is, then, in element, a reminder of an age when that act alone was radical. But what emerges now, with the shock worth removed, is the drama’s enduring insight into the deep psychological damage done by homophobia. It is worth reflecting that there are nevertheless no openly homosexual footballers in the English Premier League.

In the safety of his New York apartment, Michael is hosting a birthday celebration for Harold: a likelihood for a group of gay pals to get collectively. But this safe cocoon is threatened by the unexpected arrival of his old college buddy, who is both straight and strait-laced. Michael’s determined efforts to disguise the nature of the guests to the dinner-jacketed gate-crasher produce a lot of slapstick comedy. But beneath all this, there is a dark lagoon of painful emotions. Ultimately they break via: first in a physical attack and then, as the night wears on, in a cruel parlour game.

Mark Gatiss and Jack Derges © Darren Bell

Harold (played by Mark Gatiss with waspish brilliance and professional timing) may possibly be the supposed centre of interest but the genuine concentrate of the play is Michael, whose brittle one particular-liners and sharp put-downs mask a corrosive self-loathing that at some point pours out. Ian Hallard doesn’t hold back on the sheer nastiness of his character’s game-playing, but he also gradually reveals the damage that drives it: the internalisation of a lifetime of guilt, fear and secrecy.

What hasn’t lasted so effectively is the play’s structure. The scene-setting opening is extended and somewhat clunky and there are some terribly unconvincing telephone calls and awkward plot twists. Meanwhile the understandable selection to have a kaleidoscopic range of gay characters in order to represent the various struggles within the neighborhood now appears a bit contrived.

Penford’s staging doesn’t overcome these issues, but it does consist of some superb laugh-out-loud moments (a joyous dance routine, for instance) and brings a actual shiver to the violence, both physical and psychological. And it brings out the emotional truths in the drama. The final celebration game, in which Michael forces every single man to telephone the person he loves and tell them so, is painful, poignant and beautifully delivered: not least by Greg Lockett, James Holmes and Ben Mansfield.

To October 30, parktheatre.co.uk

Section: Arts


Boys will be Boys, London — ‘Sharp but skimpy’

'Boys will be Boys'©Helen Murray

‘Boys will be Boys’

Although the Bush Theatre undergoes a year-lengthy refurbishment, venues around the district will residence the shows. Boys will be Boys settles at Bush Hall, an Edwardian dance hall down the road from the theatre, exactly where the elegant stuccoed ballroom makes an atmospheric setting for this sharp, but in the end skimpy cabaret-style drama (a co-production with Headlong Theatre) about women in the City.

Melissa Bubnic’s all-female play picks up exactly where two other astute female dramatists — Caryl Churchill with Best Girls and Serious Income, and Lucy Prebble with Enron — left off, to deliver a bleak, blackly comic portrait of sexism in the City. Astrid is a 42-year-old female broker, who, to make it in a testosterone-packed planet, has turn out to be a lot more ballsy than the blokes, and, as she says, channelling Ginger Rogers, done it all in heels. But when she takes on a new young female protégée (Ellora Torchia), items start to unravel and she realises that, by playing by the guidelines of a patriarchal set-up, she has let herself be played.

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It’s a excellent premise and, as Bubnic herself makes clear, it is not genuinely about the City: it’s about endemic sexism a lot more broadly and about how you change a culture rather than survive in it by internalising its values. Meanwhile a connection that Astrid strikes up with a prostitute touches on broader questions about when and whether females are empowering themselves by way of sex and when they are getting exploited.

The play doesn’t get deep enough into these concerns, though, and is hampered by a rather clunky plot and some truly awkward scenes guying the drunken, bully-boy antics of Astrid’s colleagues. The males are deliberate caricatures and that they are played by females here ought to accentuate that their macho strutting is an act. But sadly they are way too formulaic to hit property: a ruthless, challenging-speaking boss and a dozy City boy employed only simply because his Dad has a lot of clout.

What lifts it is the sensible notion of shaping it as a cabaret, so scenes are spliced, in Amy Hodge’s staging, with dance sequences and solos from Kirsty Bushell’s Astrid at the onstage piano. And Bushell is terrific as Astrid: acerbic, funny, she flirts with the audience, inviting intimacy then slapping it back at the last moment. She also has a wealthy voice and puts across some great and apt blues numbers, finishing with Etta James’s “I’d Rather Go Blind.” Sharp notion, but too hit and miss in execution.

To July 30, bushtheatre.co.uk

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Section: Arts