Boys, VAULT Festival

by guest critic Ava Davies

Boys, the inaugural piece by physical theatre group The PappyShow, is about exactly that. It’s an exploration of manhood, of masculinity, of what it means to be a man of colour in the UK today. It’s about mess and silliness and play and pain. It’s about the complexity of selfhood – because how can one man possibly contain all these multitudes?

Kane Husbands directs with deftness and sensitivity: his company grapple and caress in equal measure, and it is to his credit that the (sometimes disjointed) devised piece doesn’t feel baggy. The piece veers with infectious energy from quietly told, individual stories about the boys’ various ancestry to enthusiastic games directed by the audience: who can make the silliest face? Who can do the longest jump? What can often come across as bolshy, laddish competitiveness is translated into an innocent, boyish sweetness. It’s rare for men – and particularly men of colour – to just be allowed to enjoy themselves onstage without caveat.

The company are stunning – their excitement and dedication cannot be faulted, and a supportive audience fuels them further.

Primarily a physical theatre troupe, the choreographed movement is precise and relies on a huge amount of trust within the company. Touch is malleable in Boys – sometimes it is a chastisement, sometimes it is affectionate, sometimes it’s romantic and sometimes it’s brotherly.

It’s a scrappy, messy show made with a huge amount of charm and vitality.

BOYS runs through 11 February.

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