Layers of Mess

✮✮✮

Ella Hickson's Boys

LOST Theatre | London

directed by James Thacker

The party is over and the flat is a mess – a bigger mess than usual, thanks to a refuse strike in the city, which means the rubbish is left stagnating in the flat. The boys all have a different attitude to this. Benny (Alex Bird), worrier and complainer who spends a good deal of his time sat on the top of the fridge, finds it extremely unfair. He wants to phone the council, the landlord, anyone – and get it sorted. The seemingly heartless Mac (Henry Bauckham) takes a bit more of a chilled out ‘there’s nothing we can do’ approach. Timp (Ross Kernahan) is too high from taking drugs for breakfast to care and Cam (Luke Farrugia), well; he’s too busy worrying about his make-or-break violin concert.

The set (designed by Mark Magill) is a perfect recreation of a messy student kitchen, complete with half-drunk cans of beer and piles of dirty dishes – enough to make even the audience members feel slightly on edge. However, it’s not just the physical mess the boys have to deal with. As the refuse strike builds to riots in the streets below, the tensions between the boys need addressing too.

The script by Ella Hickson is admirably ambitious, by turns funny and heart breaking, sweeping the fear of growing up, the despondency of a generation, social responsibility, suicide and pressure of achievement into its wide scope. Yet some of the backstory isn’t clear enough and this means some moments of high intensity feel sprung on us, and lead to moments of confusion. The play is laden with metaphors, clever juxtaposition and big ideas, and while Hickson’s intentions are impressive, it doesn’t all come together as it should.

Some of the performances start off a little unconvincing, but the young cast soon warm up. Gabrielle Nellis-Pain as Laura, the dippy yet fragile girlfriend of Timp, is outstanding. She is incredibly watchable, flitting between keeping the party going and everyone else happy, and moments of private sadness. She pulls the best out of the other characters she interacts with too. The relationship between Laura and Timp is realistic and acutely observed. Jenna Fincken gives a lovely performance as Sophie, the girl caught between Benny, her ex-boyfriend’s brother, and Mac, with whom she has fallen madly in love.

Under James Thacker’s direction, each character has a clear individual personality that is sustained successfully throughout. This is what keeps us engaged, fascinated by these young people, even when the plot gets a bit muddled. However, the relationships between the boys could be more clearly delineated. I struggled to see why Benny and Mac were friends, much less why Benny would be living with someone like Timp. Additionally, the effects of Benny’s brother’s suicide a few months earlier were not as keenly felt as they perhaps could have been.

This is a fun and energetic production of an insightful and beautifully detailed play, which examines the student lifestyle and the fears of a whole generation – but particularly, the boys.

photo | ©David Elms

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