Hen and Chickens Theatre
Sometimes you see a show and you know it’s surely something good. You know it’s going to be collecting up those 4 and 5 star reviews and people are going to be going home to tell their friends that they simply must go and see it. You know all that praise surely will be more than justified. And yet…
So why is Glassboy likely to get such plaudits. Firstly because of Gabriel Phelan‘s solo performance. He is a full-on bundle of energy. He transforms himself physically, morphing between the man he feels he should be; big and tough and strong, then back to the one deep down he would rather be; soft gentle, understanding. He glides, he dances, he falls across every inch of the stage. His delivery perfectly serves its purpose too. He shouts to show what a real man he is, becomes quiet and introspective when he is being honest to himself about who he is inside.
Then there is Kory Trantum’s sound design. The music chosen screams ‘lads night out’ whilst the sound effects work well to embellish scenes. We hear the noise of the nightclub and partying, before being transported to nature, as Phelan communes with a tree. It’s also clear Ruby Phelan‘s direction is another big part of why this show will appeal: she gives the tools required to squeeze every ounce out of the script.
Which brings us to the script. It delivers a story of a young man caught up in toxic masculinity. It shows him brought up in a home where his dad is the law and women are there to make the dinner. If men aren’t in control, they are surely weak and worthless. So what is a boy to do except try to live up to his father’s expectations? Which are only reinforced by his circle of friends, a social group cut from the same cloth as his dad; no emotions, shag ‘em and leave ‘em, never say sorry, never ever say you love them.
So it all adds up to a show that should have blown my socks off. But…
It’s hard to put a finger on just why all these parts failed to add up to something more. Somewhere a piece was simply missing. Maybe it was too full-on for my tastes? Maybe this depiction of a man torn between wanting to be one of the lads and wanting to be himself just didn’t hit the right tone. As much as I could admire all the pieces, ultimately, I felt unmoved come the closing moments when he finally makes a stand, yet in doing so becomes the very thing he despises.
If I have to put my finger on it, I’d say it was just a little too artschool; too calculated and precise. And because of this it removed the soul required to make me love it. Or maybe it just wasn’t for me and nothing they could change would ever alter my mind.
Undoubtedly Glassboy has all the right ingredients. If those 5 star reviews do start to fall in its lap I will happily admit to being wrong: it happens, we can’t all love the same things. This piece is absolutely worth seeing for Phelan’s performance alone and I would happily watch him in future work. But a review in the end has to gauge just how the play leaves you feeling. Here, Glassboy impressed me technically but failed to move me emotionally.
Written by: Gabriel Phelan
Directed by: Ruby Phelan
Sound and lighting by: Kory Trantum
Glassboy has completed its run at Camden Fringe 2022.