The greatest kind of theatre doesn’t call for a reviewer, it calls for a worshipper. BOYS by ThePappyShow is worthy of fervor because it courses with joyous energy that feels like catharsis and liberation. BOYS is a search for a healthy, vulnerable manhood, articulated through men’s stories of their relationships between themselves and others amid the expectations placed on them by conventional ideas about masculinity.
The cast is ten young men of color hailing from vastly different backgrounds and training, and the show is devised through play. Not following a narrative, BOYS represents something I love about physical theatre: it’s not reductive. It adheres to the complexities of human experience while imbuing them with a lightness and joy that is spiritually transporting. It has a through-thread, but not a through-narrative. It leaps, tumbles, dances, and walks. It doesn’t romanticize, and it doesn’t hold back, either.
After a staged group beating whose trauma reverberates through the rest of the show, each of the cast steps forward to give us a statement that may or may not be true, statements that blur between playful and confessional: stuff like “I’ve never told someone I love them”; “I really like my mom”; “I genuinely believe that Boris Johnson has my best interests at heart”; “I’m the voice of Siri”; “I don’t trust avocados.” Not everyone has something to say, and not everyone wants to say something, but this scene is like the opening of a space where walls can come down. And from here, the walls disintegrate.
A handshake between two men becomes a dance that grows in intimacy until they’re holding each other, then—a kiss on the cheek. One dances an interpretive kind of ballet in high heels. The others see him and want to learn his moves. Sometimes, it’s just fantastic physical theatre conveying the joy to be alive, like an explosive, playful, and contemplative mime solo of being on and around a chair.
Director Kane Husbands’ premise for the show is that when he was around six years old, he went to give his dad a goodnight kiss and was stopped. “We don’t kiss anymore,” he was told, “we shake hands.” Confused, he kissed his mom, hugged his grandpa, and shook his father’s hand. The show peels these kinds of layers off to look at what it means to be a boy trying to be a man, brave and scared, playful and pressured.
What is perhaps most compelling is that BOYS presents tales of real challenges, like coping with accidentally burning your family’s house down at eleven, or never meeting your grandparents, or having had a horrible relationship with your parents growing up. It faces these with the promise of a real hope. This cast is facing its challenges and is thriving for it, as is most apparent in a love letter segment to their parents. One delivers a thank you letter to a dad, who raised him on his own. The two had a complicated relationship. His dad didn’t treat his mom well, and he beat him. Now they’ve become open and vulnerable with each other, and treasure each other’s company. They’re both changed by having become in touch with their emotions and honest with one another.
A few impromptu parts are interspersed throughout where one cast member will ask another “what are your three favorite parts of your body?” (abridged: “my smile… my bum… my legs”) or “What’s your problem?” (“I’m trying to find that happy place again to enjoy the good things”), or one is asked to give another a compliment. The feeling is that they ask and answer questions like these among each other as a community, and are genuinely unsure what or who will be asked, so they take the time to think and come up with wonderfully sincere answers.
BOYS is a pure joy smoothie. It is broccoli that tastes like celestial catharsis. This isn’t about simple entertainment; this is about purity and joy: casting off expectations of masculinity and just being alive. Where the cast stands, it does not feel like they are standing alone. Energy, violence, excitement, strength, and love are brimming through the show, electrifying cast and audience alike.
- Mime Theatre
- Director: Kan Husbands
- Designer: Helena Bonner
- Composer/MD: Roly Botha
- Lighting designer: Saulius Valiunas
- Dramaturg: Lewis Hetherington
- Cast: Maxwell Chartey, Jules Chan, Dior Clarke, Conor Glean, Arran Green, Nickcolia King-n’da, Mohammed Mansaray, Kwami Odoom, Kamran Vahabi, Adam Strawford
- Southbank Centre