Let me tell you about Ryan. Nineteen year old Ryan Duval is a young actor from Wakefield. He studied at independent Silcoates School (but not Drama GCSE), went to CAPA College (for Performing Arts) and has just completed a Foundation year at LAMDA, where he will continue as an acting student in September. Ryan has right sided hemiplegia; severe paralysis of his entire right side. He also has depth, power, intensity, charm, wit, magnetism and eyes that do a lot of talking. He is electric on stage. Remember the name. Ryan Duval.

Depth, power, intensity, charm, wit, magnetism and eyes that do a lot of talking

Ryan’s sister’s 22 year old friend, Dec Kelly, persuaded him to take the lead in this production of Manhood. Until recently Dec was President of Leeds University Union Theatre Group. Now he has founded ‘Aurora’ (or ‘Dawn’) to deliver new writing. Manhood is his first venture, telling the story of 16 year old Ben and his struggles through teenage life in the absence of his imprisoned father. The play is told in a series of scenes between Ben and his mum, his sister, his best mate, his… You get the gist.

Dec’s writing creates an authentic picture of teenage life. There are some good lines. I enjoy the sister asking her brother, “Why are you in the bathroom? You’re ugly anyway.” A best friend says Ben’s mother is “fit” and, when told off, replies that his own mother brought him up always to tell the truth. Nice juxtaposition.

But it is in Ryan’s silky hands that these words, and Ben’s story, really come alive. Never more so than in his Yorkshire accented monologues. The first kiss. Why dad is in prison. Fear of when he will first make love. And he doesn’t need much to work with. A gasp at the receipt of Ben’s first ever kiss. One agonised “Thanks” to a girl wiping shaving foam from his face, which says everything that could be said about male teenage angst. At the end, Ben’s hoody says ‘Don’t choke’. Ryan certainly doesn’t.

The problem is that the play is not just in Ryan’s hands. Four other actors and a stuffed dog keep getting in the way. The dog is particularly tedious, seemingly an excuse for some light puppetry but hardly cute (a Rottweiler), squeaky of voice and pulling focus by sniffing at the feet of the audience. This chaff contributes nothing that Ryan’s Ben could not deliver a million times more effectively by himself. Everything important about the boy we learn from the actor playing him.

This is an interesting play with some good lines and a fine lead. But if only it had been conceived as a one man play and told through a sequence of monologues in the style of fellow Yorkshireman Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads, then we would have something truly golden.

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The Blurb

Everyone says that boys are easier to look after than girls when they’re teenagers. Manhood is a coming-of-age play which follows the story of sixteen-year-old boy Ben and his dog Otto on his journey to find Manhood. With an absent father figure, Ben seeks the answers to becoming a man. However, it isn’t easy when his father is behind closed doors after a crime he committed 10 years ago. Will Ben realise that he doesn’t need a father figure on his journey? Or will he still see his dad as a hero?

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