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Belt Up Theatre’s The Boy James, The Goldsmith

Alexander Wright
Directed by Dominic Allen
Pros: A thoroughly engaging performance by Jethro Compton.

Cons: Not the best from Belt Up and may have lost some audience members along the way.

Our Verdict: An intimate and moving evening of theatre, offering something entirely different from the norm.
Courtesy of Belt Up Theatre
Sat on a sofa in a dimly lit study, watching two characters struggle with each other as one tries to have sex with the other, it occurred to me that I should maybe have explained a little about Belt Up to my friend before I brought her along. The thought had also crossed my mind when I booked the tickets, but I wanted her to go into it as I first did, unaware.
I suppose with immersive theatre you’re either in or out. Well, from the moment the games began, I was all in. Playing wink murder with people I had never met before, some of who clearly thought they were too cool for this sort of foolishness, is definitely my idea of a fun Wednesday evening. Slowly, these trendy, 30-something Londoners in knitted jumpers and skinny jeans, loosened up, shed their adulthood and joined hands; ready to follow the boy wherever his imagination was going to take us.
However, the play’s dark nature soon takes hold and it isn’t long before we realise that something terrible is happening. At the hands of both the girl and adult James, you see the childhood taken, and literally beaten, out of the boy James and, having played with him only moments before, you feel greatly for him. From the moment the adult James mentions he’s written a letter to the young boy, I was desperate to read it, to find out why he could no longer play along, and so when the boy James finally asks for someone to read it to him, I impulsively stood up. I was surprised at how much the words moved me, though I must apologise to the poor audience who had to endure my terrible reading!
As expected from this group of actors, the performances were faultless. In a space this intimate the characters have to be people you entirely believe in. Jethro Compton playing the boy James is infectiously playful and his naivety is heart wrenching. Equally I think the girl, played by Serena Manteghi, unnerved pretty much everyone in the room.
Whilst there’s no denying its uniqueness, The Boy James is not something that everyone will take to. I blame this more on the subject matter than the writing or performances of the cast, which you really can’t fault. Not everyone cares all that much about having to grow up and I’ve heard some people even enjoy it! So I can understand why for some, this isn’t the best piece from what is a great company. I certainly didn’t have quite as strong a reaction as Stephen Fry, who has been quoted to be, ‘still drying my eyes’. I was, however, genuinely moved by this play and continue to be in awe of a truly visionary company who have the talent to achieve results, which at times are magical. 
As usual whenever Belt Up grace the London scene it’s going to be worth catching them, especially if you are after something extraordinary. This particular play is only on until 11th February so you’ll have to hurry to catch it, and if this review can’t persuade you to go then perhaps the prospect of blowing raspberries in a room full of strangers might?
Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

The Boy James runs at The Goldsmith (in association with the Southwark Playhouse)  until 11th February 2012.
Box Office: 020 7407 0234 or book online at http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/

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