Pros: An interesting man’s story – a huge amount of history packed into 60 minutes.
Cons: Unfortunately, the performer had to put up with a misbehaving audience.
Martin has been referred to a psychologist because he isn’t sleeping. This is his first visit, and while he begins the hour-long session complaining that all he needs are some sleeping pills, it doesn’t take much (“Start from the beginning” said by the imaginary psychologist) for him to open up and explain his complex and tragic history.
Belfast Boy is based on a true story of a northern Irish lad who, at the age of 11, had to leave Belfast because of his brother’s dalliance with the Ulster Volunteer Force. It revolves around his large family, his sexuality and him being a bit of a ‘diva’. Martin has endured a hard life and were it not for the knowledge of it being real, I couldn’t believe one person could go through everything spoken about: from leaving their home in Northern Ireland in the middle of the night, to domestic abuse through to the drug taking in the party scene of 90’s London.
Martin is played by Barry Fitzgerald, who performs the show alone, constantly looking out into the audience while talking to the psychologist. This is difficult enough for some actors in the West End who can only see the first row of seats, let alone in a small pub theatre, but Fitzgerald holds his eye contact and his performance well.
Unfortunately, while the audience was full of friends and colleagues of the muse and writer/director, and a close-knit community who clearly supported and loved these people, I found the audience as a whole off-putting. Perhaps it is my own biased opinion but I’m not sure it’s ever OK to have extended conversations while sitting on the front row or leave your phone on loud and let it chirrup away for the whole show. I felt quite sorry for Fitzgerald who was carrying the show alone, but he didn’t get put off once and his performance didn’t appear to be affected by these issues.
Kat Woods, who wrote and directed the show, has put a fast- edged and active pace on a scene that could be quite sedate. She’s packed a vast amount of history into a 60-minute piece, but I never felt like the show was dragging itself out. Her direction was restrained but also when the performance called for a bout of motion, she managed to squeeze it in. By interspersing the script with short scenes from Martin’s past she also gave the show an additional interesting dimension that would have been lacking if it were all talking to the doctor.
Clearly real-life Martin is an inspiration to many people, however from a stage perspective the show feels like it would go well when combined with another hour-long session of someone else’s story or in a TV series about a psychologist’s patients. The piece is interesting and the performance was good, however it felt like a re-telling of a personal story, albeit an interesting story, without much progression during the 60 minutes. I think perhaps ultimately the show meant more to those personally involved with the creative team than it did for me.
Author: Kat Woods
Director: Kat Woods
Lighting and Sound: Gary Faulkner
Booking Until: 9 February 2014
Box Office: 020 7482 4857
Booking Link: http://www.etceteratheatre.com/index.php