By guest critic Martin Pettitt
Boys, Ella Hickson’s play, alludes to a teenage girl patronisingly rolling her eyes at the clumsy and emotionally immature endeavours of her male school mates. It is a title that belies the complexity of the play while at the same time signalling its rather linear representation of gender roles.
The show takes place during a sanitation strike in an Edinburgh flat share which is slowly piling up with detritus and rubbish bags. The inhabitants of the flat, several students days away from leaving for home and a waiter on the verge of his 30s, are trapped inside the walls as the tensions between them slowly rise and reveal themselves. It is a simple concept but one done well and rich with symbolism.
The set is a whole kitchen inside a flat, as if it had been picked up and dropped wholesale from a student abode in the Victorian house around the corner. It is so well observed that one is tempted to get onstage and make a cup of tea or join in with the shenanigans. The staging is that authentic the only thing missing is the smell which one imagines would be somewhere between stale water and rotting vegetables.
The mise en scene, being so scarily familiar, gives an oddly voyeuristic verve to proceedings, it almost feels too real. On many occasions there is the danger of projectiles hitting audience members, reinforcing this closeness. This is what theatre should be; we are not in the cinema here, this danger is what makes theatre unique.
The dialogue and pacing is punchy and slick and, as with the set, very keenly observed. There are plenty of the normal tropes – student cleanliness, wonderment at the future, poor diet, the bawdy stories involving naive freshers – but there is more going on here. Each character is a human first and foremost and this is the strength of the script. The characterisation, as well as the acting, is so good that it makes the absence at the centre of the play, a dead friend/brother who committed suicide, seem erroneous. It doesn’t seem needed, but merely an addition by the playwright to make things more dramatic – as if she is afraid her characters can’t do the job. They totally can, and with gusto.
As much as this play brings to the slightly wonky and stained table, there is a naïveté to the script. One particular example is Benny’s revelation (to the audience) of his brother’s suicide – shouted hysterically, and then cuts to black – it feels very amateurish. The roles of the men and women in the piece are also sadly trite. Despite the amazing characterisation, the women are left to look on, doe-eyed, as the foolish men cheat on them and hide their ‘true’ sensitive natures behind bolshie facades. The women are forced to stoically endure the drama, awaiting their fate like the women from Troy. This seemed quite conspicuous in a contemporary world of plurality and fluidity.