Review – Boys
New Diorama Theatre

Words by: Mike Scott-Harding | Published: Monday, December 3, 2018 10:01 AM

The stage is set sparsely; nine weighted, helium balloons stand in the middle of the performance space. Gradually, nine young male performers – all with black, mixed, or diverse-caucasian heritage – enter the space, greeting each other warmly before the balloons are circled around, gathered, then removed.


What follows is a series of - what could loosely be described as – workshop exercises, highlighting the fragile, combustible nature of young male masculinity in this country. If this description sounds somewhat sterile, it is not meant to be.


Boys is a warm, heart-felt, often uncomfortable, celebration of male camaraderie.


Each and every performer gets their moment to shine – whether physically, emotionally, or in combination - and it is a testament to their artistic bravery, and to Pappyshow’s whole artistic team, that they are able to present so much of themselves to us.

The piece confronts the ‘knife-shaped elephant in the room’ early on; starting with a choreographed group mugging – slo-mo movement and all – the action soon deteriorates into a fatal stabbing. The wordless reactions of the participants inform us that – far from being ‘evil murderers’ – these are merely feckless fools who have allowed their empathy and altruism to be washed away on a tide of peer-pressure, machismo and one-upmanship. As the group disperses, only one youth (vainly) attempts to staunch the victim’s blood and save his life.


After examining this ‘worst case scenario’, the cast reconvenes, standing in front of the audience to issue various declarations; only some of which – as MC/leader Andre Fyffe states - are true.


These ‘admission statements’ – of differing tonal variety – change the atmosphere, and shake us from our post-stabbing gloom.

Thereafter, a series of vignettes are performed to outline the many ways young men can (still) play.


Two of the more powerful of these are recurring:

Firstly, ‘the map of the world’, where the cast each embodies - and shares the energy of - a family figure from their respective ancestral homelands. [Interestingly enough, one cast-member couldn’t – or wouldn’t - identify a meaningful family-figure, so instead, chose his ‘future self’ as avatar; a brave and sensible reaction to an increasingly common issue, methinks.]


Secondly, a tender dance duet was performed. It explored – in three parts – the non-sexual intimacy between two (presumably) self-identifying heterosexual males. In its fumbling; fun(ny), frustrating, fascinating study of hetero-normative physical contact between males, it culminates - not in an argument or another physical altercation – but in an action that might just prove even more insidious: a simple handshake.


[As Pappyshow’s artistic director Kane Edwards states in the post-show discussion, his first memory of hetero-normative/patriarchal framing occurred when – at the age of six – he was told that he was only allowed to kiss his mother goodnight and that, for his father, the gesture was to be replaced by a handshake.]


‘Boys’ is an unashamed exploration of the power of play and - more pertinently – how its gradual reduction in our lives diminishes us as a species


Compelling stuff, and well performed.

Roly Botha’s music – a mixture of contemporary beats, and evocative soundscapes - is superb throughout, and perfectly complements the action; as do the sound and lights.


Each and every performer gets their moment to shine – whether physically, emotionally, or in combination - and it is a testament to their artistic bravery, and to Pappyshow’s whole artistic team, that they are able to present so much of themselves to us.


Apparently there is a female equivalent to ‘Boys’ in preparation (naturally enough called ‘Girls’). It will, no doubt, explore similar issues of polarisation, segregation, and obfuscation within modern gender politics.


I look forward to that piece, and also to the next in the series: ‘Girls and Boys’…?

Of course, this last title has not been commissioned yet (as far as I know).


However – based on the quality of this show – all future installments are sure to be a welcome reminder that the two (traditionally dominant) genders do not come from different planets (i.e. Venus and Mars).


Indeed, they are both capable of great things – both separately and collectively - once they remove their heads from (the figurative) ‘Uranus’!


At its core, ‘Boys’ is an unashamed exploration of the power of play and - more pertinently – how its gradual reduction in our lives diminishes us as a species.


By reminding us of this, Pappyshow are offering us a great gift – let’s hope we can each set aside our own social-media toys long enough to unwrap it…together.



NEED TO KNOW: Boys was at New Diorama Theatre from 27 Nov to 1 Dec | see listing




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