Fledgling theatre company Open Letter were immediately onto a winner when they chose Ella Hickson’s recent hit
The interwoven plotlines are easy to follow, the action is always engaging and the cast manage the trickier, more lyrical moments of the text with ease.
Housemates Mack (Luke MacGregor), Cam (Ben Flohr), Benny (Shaun Miller) and Timp (George Naylor) are getting ready to move out of their student house, but shifting the masses of rubbish is the last thing on their minds – except for Benny, who won’t shut up about it. Although the piece is largely an ensemble effort, it’s Benny’s demons that cast a shadow over the drinking and dancing, and Miller brings a real subtlety to the role. The cast as a whole benefit from their existing friendship, as they bring it to the stage – the group feel like real housemates, and the house looks like a real student house.
While none of the actors’ performances are weak, the piece suffers from the occasional lapse in casting. Naylor’s party animal Timp is a little too well-spoken, and his girlfriend Laura (Sophie Roberts) is too soft, too vulnerable for us to believe she could ever have kept up with his lifestyle. However, Roberts’ performance in itself is an incredible achievement – when the truth about Timp comes out, she blinks through real tears.
The piece is at its best when there are fewer characters onstage – the scene between Laura and Sophie (a gutsy Alice Dillon) is particularly well done, giving a quieter, yet heady emotional respite between the messy party scenes. The party scenes themselves are a little tame, although given the small space (and proximity to the audience!) maybe that's for the best.
Open Letter’s Boys is a tremendous play given a decent production – the cast are all sharp and confident, and the set is a triumph. Littered with cereal boxes, bottle caps and those giant Sports Direct mugs you’d never find in a family kitchen, the attention to detail inside pays off – although the scenes looking through the window to the riots outside could have been opened up by removing the window frame from the back curtain and letting us imagine the window ourselves, rather than having the cast almost form a queue every time there was something to be seen through it.
Problems with set and staging can be forgiven, however – ultimately, Open Letter do a great job with Hickson’s script. The interwoven plotlines are easy to follow, the action is always engaging and the cast manage the trickier, more lyrical moments of the text with ease. Boys is a commendable debut production and should draw in audiences during this last week of the festival.