First Night: Market Boy, Olivier, National Theatre, London
A Thatcherite coming-of-age tale off the back of a lorry
Wednesday 07 June 2006
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
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Forget 'The Dress': Here are five of the biggest news stories you might have missed
- 2 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 3 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 4 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
- 5 Saudi Muslim cleric claims the Earth is 'stationary' and the sun rotates around it
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Russia's roadmap for annexing eastern Ukraine 'leaked from Vladimir Putin's office'