Who needs to go to Edinburgh to see fine fringe theatre, when Bristol Old Vic delivers it to our doorstep here in the South West? Yet again, this trusted theatre delivers a packed programme of excellent and challenging performances.
My fist visit during the venue’s Autumn 2012 programme was to the downstairs Studio to see Mad About The Boy, a blunt three-hander written by Gbolahan Obiesesan. After deservedly winning the Fringe First Award at Edinburgh last year, the play is now on tour around the UK… and it’s only on in Bristol for three days, so catch it while you can.
Our protagonist is Boy (Bayo Gbadamosi), a 14-year-old youth struggling to find his place in contemporary inner-city life. He is supported by Dad (Jason Barnett) and school social worker Man (Simon Darwen). Boy is on the cusp of falling out of school and into a detention centre, while the older Man and Dad struggle to understand where things went wrong and how they can help.
What particularly struck me was the message, plainly and clearly delivered by Man, that Boy needs to respect women. When Boy asks for advice on how to make a girl like him, saying “If you want me to adjust my attitude, tell me how to get the girl I like to give me head”, a frustrated Man tells him “You got no respect.” Boy goes on to list the various uses he sees the girl offering him, all of which are derogatory.
Meaning it comes as no surprise that the crisis in the plot centres around an appalling and violent attack on a girl. The atmosphere in the Studio’s audience as Boy, Dad and Man argued over what happened was thick with tension, and I found my fingers tightly gripping the glass in my hands. While it would have altered the dynamics to introduce a new character at this point, I also wondered about the potential benefits of introducing the girl at this stage.
All three actors are faultless in their passion, vivacity and performance. Throughout four acts, the characters stand facing the audience - rather than each other – to deliver their fast-paced lyrical lines, in a directorial move by Ria Parry that really engages the audience and includes them in the action. When Man says “So what do you choose?”, he could be asking the audience as much as he’s asking Boy.
Mad About The Boy is astonishingly good theatre, delivering quick-fire, intelligent lines with precision, talent and a touch of humour (“I ain’t no Peter Andre, though”). That the underlying message was about respect for women and for taking responsibility for your actions, only makes me recommend this play even more.
Please click here to visit the Bristol Old Vic website for more information and to book tickets. Mad About The Boy is on until 29 September.