First Night: Market Boy, Olivier, National Theatre, London

A Thatcherite coming-of-age tale off the back of a lorry

A battered transit van drives with a bang through a "Labour Isn't Working" Tory election campaign poster onto the huge Olivier stage. Cocky young men spill out and to the intensifying strains of "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood they erect the frame of a shoe stall, swinging on the bars like show-off monkeys.

Welcome to the mid-1980s and to Romford Market, hotbed of working-class Thatcherism and rude microcosm of the aspirational spirit of the times. Market Boy - a show developed over four years in occasional workshops by dramatist David Eldridge and director Rufus Norris - shows us this world through the eyes of Boy (the excellent Danny Worters), a shy teenager who lands a part-time job flogging shoes on the stall run by the market's sexy black resident Lothario, wittily portrayed by Gary McDonald.

The protagonist's rite of passage from innocent boy to disillusioned young man is mapped against the country's own journey from the boom of the late 80s to the recession of the early 90s. But if it's ultimately a morality tale, there is nothing in the least preachy about Rufus Norris's highly engaging production in which 30 actors playing over 50 roles create a vitalising sense of the anything-goes energy and euphoria of the period. Mrs Thatcher's periodic cartoon-like appearances as the acclaimed mythic heroine visiting her heartland have a loopy comic charm. In one, taking a Sooty-like magic wand from her handbag, she conjures up the Christmas lights and leads a rendition of "Something in the Air". The Boy's hair-raising initiation into lewd sexual traditionsthe teeming gallery of types are captured with droll assurance.

The drawback in the first half is that unlike, say, Ben Jonson's comparable Jacobean comedy, Bartholomew Fair, with its contrast between traders and Puritans, the play doesn't rustle a plot or clash of values. When a Labour candidate dares to show his face, he's pelted with produce by the entire market.

In the second half, as the dream dies, there's some nice ironic patterning with earlier scenes, but the show still feels wonderfully theatrical without being sufficiently dramatic. It's an exhilarating piece of stage-craft, though, at its best in scenes such as that in which the Meat Man (Jonathan Cullen) becomes a national demagogue as he hymns the explosion of commodities purchasable in Thatcher's Britain to a chorus of Union Jack-waving, "Land-of-Hope-and-Glory"-singing marketeers. And there's a nice puckish prophecy about life under New Labour at the end. Tricking us into nostalgia (with the 80s pop hits) before bringing us back to our senses, the show blows a juicy kiss to the 80s through a V-sign.

Exclusive offer: We have reserved 150 VIP tickets to see 'Market Boy' on 21 June. Tickets are priced £10 (maximum of four per person). Please call the box office on 020-74523000 and quote 'Independent offer'. For terms and conditions see www.independent.co.uk/legal

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account
Music

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

Arts and Entertainment
Full throttle: Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro in God's Pocket
film
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie Minogue is expected to return to Neighbours for thirtieth anniversary special
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be Lonely Island's second Hollywood venture following their 2007 film Hot Rod
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Day-Lewis stars in the movie There Will Be Blood
music
Arts and Entertainment
Brush with greatness: the artist Norman Cornish in 1999
art
Life and Style
Stress less: relaxation techniques can help focus the mind and put problems in context
art
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment