Crying comes easily to me: too easily at times. Often, my partner will laugh at me as we watch the same show and tears stream down my face, while he sits there without a glimmer in his eye. But, sitting on the bus on the way home from this play, I reflected on the way men think about crying, and how this is intrinsically linked to the assumptions around masculinity that society encourages. Maybe some people just don’t cry whatever their gender, but Christian Graham and Ebenezer Bamgboye’s startling monologue, Boys Cry, prompts thought around why.
This is a striking show from the first minute, sitting in pitch blackness and hearing the opening lines from Mark (Christian Graham). What follows is 45 minutes of storytelling and monologue at its most impactful. It tells the tale of Mark, who was mugged on his way to sixth form college one morning, and the effect on him of such a traumatic experience. The way in which Graham presents the story is utterly engaging, and he really has me gripped throughout. At times the show almost becomes too much to bear, particularly as he describes his recurring dreams following the attack. But just when you think it’s going to become overwhelming, the narrative shifts gear and we see Mark reflecting on another situation. Descriptions of his obsession with anime, his clumsy attempts at karate and a blossoming new friendship after the mugging help to present a fully formed character, despite the brevity of the monologue.
The show interrogates masculinity and how toxic this can be. It focuses on the trauma of an innocent youth who is mugged, but it also considers the wider environment. Mark discusses what it means to be a young man with so much pent-up emotion in the 2000’s. He describes his feelings as volcanoes waiting to explode. It made me think of August 2011, and the riots in London and cities across the UK, when things really did ignite for a few nights.
The show doesn’t offer answers: through the lens of Mark’s experience we see how he tried to cope with his own trauma, and the people that helped him along the way. The scene where Mark describes how his Mum knew he wasn’t coping is heart-breaking, and I was moved to tears. As I said, this isn’t rare for me, but the play really does pack an emotional punch.
Riverside Studios offers incredible lighting and an excellent sound system, used to great effect by lighting designer Matthew Carnazza and sound designer Catherine Hawthorne. Graham has powerful command of the space, and the tech aids him in setting the scene for each part of the story. Whether in a police station interview room, in a car going through a tunnel, or in the sanctuary of his room watching anime, I was transported.
One of the perks of reviewing is going to shows that you might otherwise not have chosen. And I must admit, I wouldn’t have rushed to Boy’s Cry for an evening’s entertainment, but I’m glad I did. Sadly, there were a few empty seats on the night I went, so I urge you to go and see this important work. Not only is it incredibly well done, but the questions it raises are crucial.
Directed by: Ebenezer Bamgboye
Produced by: Christian Graham & Ebenezer Bamgboye
Lighting design by: Matthew Carnazza
Sound design by: Catherine Hawthorne
Boys Cry plays at Riverside Studios until 26 September. Further information and booking via the below link.