Boys, Soho Theatre, London


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The Independent Culture

Ella Hickson’s marvellous play makes a well-timed arrival at Soho Theatre in Robert Icke’s superbly cast co-production for Headlong, HighTide and the Nuffield Theatre.

All over the country now, university students are in that strange limbo between finishing their exams and being flung into an unforgiving future that is both the actual lot of the Edinburgh flat-sharers in the piece and, thanks to Hickson’s terrific tragicomic touch, a metaphor for a state of mind – an unsettling mixture of relief and foreboding, nostalgia for parties past and the sense that, for you, the party may soon be over – that resurfaces, in modified forms, throughout the rest of one’s life. 

It’s an abnormally hot August; stinking bags of rubbish are piling up in the cruddy kitchen because of a strike by refuse workers; the landlord’s inspection is imminent; and, propped amid the debris, there’s a nicked Barclays sign proclaiming that, “We’ll loan you the best years of your life”. This is an ironic epigraph to a play that can be forgiven for bulging at times because of the superabundance of its virtues – charming, off-the-wall humour; energetic dialogue; and the poignancy, poetry and quirky philosophising that it manages to accommodate with no shrieking shifts of gear.

Often sitting like a frumpy Humpty Dumpty on top of the fridge, Danny Kirrane’s splendid, endearingly uningratiating Benny is the heart of the piece, with his First, his troubled awareness that he will never know more that he knows now (all of it useless) and his need to believe that through making choices one can make a difference. By contrast, it suits his enigmatic, sexually exploitative friend/adversary Mack (a simmering Samuel Edward Cook) to take a cynically defeatist line, while Lorn Macdonald’s lovely Scot Cam longs to opt out of the nervous strain of being on the brink of stardom as a violinist.

Taking drugs for breakfast and cavorting around in his Y-fronts, livewire Timp (excellent Tom Mothersdale) – in his late 20s – battens on the student-life, without being a student. It’s a way of endlessly refusing to commit to his girlfriend Laura (a touchingly chirpy-sad Alison O’Donnell) who promises to love him even when the effect of time on his tattoos makes him look like “a page of writing that’s been rained on”.

Tensions rise in a play that both powerfully captures the mood of a generation and addresses permanent truths with exhilarating flair.

To 16 June (020 7478 0100)