Soho Boy, at the Drayton Arms Theatre, is a new musical, written and composed by Paul Emelion Daly. It provides the professional debut for Owen Dennis who will graduate from the Italia Conti Academy this summer. He plays Spencer, the only character in the show.
predictable rather than memorable
The storyline is familiar, simple, straightforward and contains no surprises. Spencer is gay, but not out and will remain that way until he leaves his hometown. He packs his bags and moves to Soho where his mother thinks he will find a nice girl and settle down. She even calls him to see how he is progressing in that respect. He does some busking and gets a job in a clothes store from which he borrows clothes that he flaunts in multiple costume changes that show off his slender physique. He meets Jonathan on one of many nights spent partying and they hook up; for a while. Spencer’s life goes downhill from there. In pursuit of Jonathan, he feels obliged to indulge in the sleazier side of the gay scene which is the excuse for the predictable and gratuitous nude scene. I’ll leave the ending, lest you decide to see the show, but the idea that, according to the publicity, this ‘is a modern take’ on the gay scene could not be further from the truth. There is nothing new here and there are hints of decades past.
Dennis looks the part and he must be thrilled to have landed the role in a world premiere before he fully embarks on his professional career. He has an adequate voice, but one that leaves room for more development in order to carry off sustained solo roles. David Shields’ set of a couple of moveable clothes rails full of outfits establishes Spencer’s lifestyle and the stripped bed cleverly doubles up as a stage, as Spencer does a cabaret song and dance routine. Producer and lighting director, Richard Lambert, makes the most of the flashy disco vibe and lifestyle of Spencer to flood the set with vivid colours and intensely bright lights that add further sparkle to his wardrobe, just in case it’s not all quite camp enough. Talking of things that sparkle, the back wall is veiled in black cloth with individual white bulbs that blend the disco imagery with that of the sky at night. It fits perfectly with the last song of the show, Why ask for the moon, which has the line ‘Why ask for the moon/ When the stars are shining?’ a near pillage from Now Voyager that one wishes might have been avoided, even though it pretty much sums up the general level of the lyrics.
Director Matt Strachan allows Dennis to wander around the room, but he has little to work on. The songs are predictable rather than memorable and combine with a minimal libretto that has a shallow storyline lacking in complexity and with insufficient narrative to build up emotional depth and create a sense of involvement and attachment.