This stifling performance by young talent Greg Fossard will make you uneasy as the traumas of a troubled Belfast man’s life unravel. To witness hyperactive dances and skittish impressions descend into horrifying depictions of abuse and suffocating, emotional splintering, is undeniably affecting. We hear that “tangents are a good thing”, and this is an hour full of them.
The rapid fire of Fossard’s spluttering, explosive, compelling monologue expels the air from one’s lungs
Fossard’s Martin is a font of vivacity, all giggles and asides and spontaneous bursts of Madonna. Multiple relations, friends and authority figures are conveyed with aplomb, posh accents over-egged (rightly) and foolish Ulster Volunteer Forces ridiculed. In fact, it’s difficult to empathise with this insightful, yet intentionally reckless, figure at first. But then the laughs give way to a rumbling nucleus of aggression, fear and heartbreak.
Martin’s Mum is depicted with fag in one hand, oxygen in the other (and there’s the most charmingly moving reference to nits). The Dad, absent at first, is recalled at his lowest. Brothers are embroiled in petty - and not-so-petty - crime. Ex-loves aren’t so lovely. It’s soon clear why Martin enters a seedy underbelly of prostitution and drugs.
Every character described by this boy is damaged - and there is never any certain explanation put forward (“it wasn’t anyone’s fault”, Martin ponders about a lost loved one). This production isn’t perfect: lights didn’t always sync perfectly, and Fossard slipped into the wrong voice once or twice. Woods’ script, too, can become a little cliché where songs and the recurring trope of death coalesce. But it is a complex and thoughtful knitting of many harrowing themes (and how fitting is Massive Attack's Teardrop in a most visceral scene).
Belfast Boy is a pioneering piece of theatre, rattled out with machine gun-like intensity. The rapid fire of Fossard’s spluttering, explosive, compelling monologue expels the air from one’s lungs: we become the psychologist who can do nothing but observe with unending intrigue. Martin may no longer feel, but we - undeniably - must, long past the abrupt, tearful close.