We’re all familiar with our society’s gender expectations – Barbie and Action Man, Yorkie Bars and Bic’s “for her” range. Theatre company Portmanteau addresses this subject in their new verbatim piece
when they are at their best, the actors give us plenty to admire: well-observed characterisation, gently delivered humour and even some impressive singing.
The devised play follows the parallel lives of a set of twins – one female, one male; she is racked by self-doubt and he is propelled by self-assurance. On returning to their childhood home to clear out the attic, they look to their old toy boxes and the accompanying memories for answers. It’s a clever, simple concept and leads to the kind of neat staging which makes the most of a small stage.
The opening is the strongest point. Here, the dialogue is engaging and delivery is sharp. Unfortunately, a lot of inconsistency follows. They move a little awkwardly between flashback sequences, and while many of these are thought-provoking and entertaining, others (such as a ballet dancing sequence) feel slow and unnecessary.
Interaction between the twins as present day adults sometimes lacks chemistry and energy. This is perhaps the fault of the dialogue, which tends to plod along without doing very much. It often repeats things we’ve already learned about the characters in the first five minutes and when it does cover new ground, it can be frustratingly expositional.
The actors seem to know this, and their performances are nervous and tentative towards the end. Here, they don’t quite pull off the light humour which hovers uncertainly as their acting becomes increasingly noncommittal.
But earlier on, when they are at their best, the actors give us plenty to admire: well-observed characterisation, gently delivered humour and even some impressive singing.
The questions it asks may not be new, and the way it asks them may not be especially exciting. But Boxed In serves as a reminder of the strange imbalance of our gendered world.