Theatre review: New Boy

Posted: November 4, 2009 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews
Review:  New Boy.
Directed by:  Russell Labey,
First published in Sunday Independent:  1 November ‘09
Review:  Astrid Stark
Dissecting the nature of our sexuality.

At best relationships are difficult to negotiate and understand. For many of us they are complex and confusing melting pots of emotion as, in the throes of love, we watch all logic disintegrate. Sometimes we have to go right back to the beginning to and try and untangle its roots.  This is theme that New Boy explores; the young adult’s entry into emotional and sexual maturity that lays the foundation for his rest of his life. Clive Gilson and  Gahlia Phillips  in New Boy, Photography Lloyd Edy

The school’s new boy, Barry, played by Stephen Jubber, is devilishly handsome, elusive and a virgin.  Mark, played by Clive Gilson, is a skinny, pale boy with a rather large chip on his shoulder. He is desperate to get his sex life jump started and through Barry he starts exploring his own sexuality.  Mark cunningly sets Barry up with the prettiest girls at school and then fluctuates wildly between his own feelings for women and men, yet he’s reluctant to explore his own sexuality until he meets Barry’s sister. In his mind the female version of Barry is just what he needs. However he is in complete denial of his own sexual identity that is trying to emerge. 

Director, Russell Labey, who edited Gus Van Sant’s film Milk, adapted New Boy from the novel by William Sutcliffe.  He also directs the play.  Labey’s writing bristles with sharp humour and heart-wrenching truths about the human condition. Quite a lot of profanity punctuates the boys’ journey as they wrestle with their sexual identity and the stereotypical roles that are enforced on them by society.  It’s is a most poignant ‘coming out of the closet’ story that aims to understand our sexual orientation by going right back to the start; painfully dissecting each emotion along the way.   The two boys’ exploits soon spirals out of control with heartbreaking consequences and a reflection by Clive Gilson’s character; “It is sad. The friends you lose along the path of finding yourself.”  There are a number of plot lines which makes the play accessible to a wide audience and it should not be mistaken for a story about gays and only for gays. It is rather an exploration of relationships, growing up, and self-discovery.

Gilson as the main protagonist, Mark, delivers a mesmerising and flawless performance. His petulant adolescent behaviour that hampers his own development will probably resonate with a lot of audiences. His rocky journey of unearthing his own identity is at times painful and often humorous.    Jubber’s performance as the hunky Barry is quite saucy and entertaining.  Whereas Mark over analyses every situation, Barry just seems to exist comfortably within his skin, which irritates Mark to no end.  Yet, despite Mark’s desperate attempts to understand himself and the world, it is the rather dull and unimaginative Barry that finds himself first. 

Nicole France delivers a sharp performance as the French teacher, Mrs Mumford.  Mrs Mumford falls for Barry’s charms, abandons her husband and children, and becomes a bit of a hippy.  Of course Mark, who set the two up in the first place, is consumed by jealousy and tries all sorts of evil tricks to drive the star-struck lovers apart. Gahlia Phillips’s performance as Louise, Barry’s sister, is as skilled as the rest of the cast, though she plays a smallish part.

There are splashes of nudity which gives the play its PG16 rating and quite a lot of pillow talk that will possibly make more conservative theatre goers squirm. However it is all balanced by a good dose of humour and a sensitive approach to difficult issues

Leopold Senekal’s stage design is one of the most detailed I have seen this year; clearly no expenses spared. The stage is turned into a schoolroom, a locker room – complete with a fully functional shower – and a bedroom.  It lends an added air of professionalism to an already polished performance.  New Boy is a must see play for anyone who has ever fallen in or out of love and those who enjoy exploring the very nature of relationships.

New Boy runs at The NewSpace Theatre until 15 November 2009.




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