Home » Reviews » Off West End » Boys’ Life, Etcetera Theatre

Boys’ Life, Etcetera Theatre

Howard Korder

Directed by Sebastien Blanc
Pros: The team work hard at the frequent scene changes and utilise the small space to maximum effect. It’s an interesting script, worthy of revival and there are some humorous moments.
Cons: The actors struggle with the American accents and there is no sense of a real understanding of the characters and the 1980s setting. The use of several lit cigarettes in the confined theatre space is oppressive and uncomfortable.
Our Verdict: This production does not get a strong grasp on the underlying context that makes the script dynamic and interesting, and falls short of delivering the subtleties and sincerities that gained it a Pulitzer nomination.
Courtesy of Etcetera Theatre
Firstly, I take my hat off to 11:11 Productions and Sebastien Blanc for taking on this production. Boys’ Life is a tough script to get right for so many reasons. It is set in the 1980s, and although that is a generation ago and a world away in terms of sexual politics, the era is still in living memory and the culture is echoed in the present. This makes it very difficult to get real distinction in the setting, and to achieve strong identity in the characters being portrayed. Secondly, the script is riddled with ambient subtext which is crucial to the impact of the drama, which in itself is barely more than a collection of conversations. It’s a challenging undertaking and unfortunately, on this occasion the production fell short of the mark.
The three central characters are college friends in their thirties, each of them with different motivations in their endeavours for relationships with various women. Jack (Max Warrick) is cocksure and carefree, and although already married with a child he does not let this inhibit his pursuit of female conquests. Phil (Luke Trebilcock) is desperate and needy, saying and doing anything to get attention. Don (Matthew Crowley) represents the changing attitudes toward women and relationships of the time, but falls to his peers’ level when tested. Warrick, Trebilcock and Crowley are enthusiastic and pick up the personalities of these characters reasonably well. What is missing is the real understanding of the insecurity that all these men are crippled by – there is no genuine conveyance of the sensitivities, the seriousness and the sarcasm that the story requires to get the message across. The delivery seems to skim the surface of what are actually complex characters. There is no clear demonstration of the sexual politics either – whilst we get the rhetoric surrounding the lads’ attitude towards women, the underlying context of the period is missing, leaving the characters as a hollow pastiche of what was a highly charged era of change. The final scene which depicts the demise of the connection between these men just doesn’t hit the mark, it lacks the climactic gravitas that sews all the previous scenes together.
This lack of understanding of the sexual politics of the era and the nuance of the make or break of New York in a bull market is carried through to the female characters. With the exception of Lisa (Anna Brooks-Beckman), who captures the essence of the new feminism quite convincingly, the female actors render their parts as weak and wooden. They lack the contrast that is written into the script and fail to demonstrate the fundamental aspects of society that their parts are written to depict. I think the performances suffer from being delivered in American accents – none of the actors appear comfortable with the articulation and as a result the dialogue is homogenous throughout which quenches the dynamic that is so desperately needed. This is an interesting play and an ambitious production which on this occasion does not really deliver.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Boys’ Life runs at Etcetera Theatre until 5th May 2013.
Box Office:020 7482 4857 or book online at http://www.etceteratheatre.com/index.php?id=1

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  1. Interesting review! However I do think somewhat weak, I think you may be missing the point slightly. It could be possible that we went on different evenings but the performance I saw brought the house down. We were laughing heartily throughout and quite definitely understanding the subtext. It’s quite a simple play really, is it possible that ‘Pulitzer’ is shaping your opinion? My partner and I thought the direction and acting was fab and so it seemed did the rest of the audience, especially in such a small space. This website would work a lot better if it was designed to suit the wants of the audience members and not to service the opinions of the writers.

    • Thanks very much for commenting, and really glad you enjoyed the show!

      Obviously there’s a difference in opinion between you and our reviewer, but the one thing I would take issue with is your point that we haven’t written from the perspective of the audience, and that the review only services the opinion of the writer. By default a review is an opinion, and all of our reviewers are audience members – indeed most of them don’t work in theatre themselves! Our reviews are very specifically written with the audience in mind, but naturally some (including yourself on this occasion!) will disagree with us.

      So I’m not sure how you can say that our review isn’t designed to suit the wants of the audience? Please do feel free to respond though – we promise we won’t censor anything ;)!

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