New Boy, Trafalgar Studios, London
Monday 23 March 2009
The new boy on the block is Hamlet for the Skins generation, and as played by Nicholas Hoult of that E4 television "edgy teen drama" about a bunch of horrid party monsters, the claim is not unreasonable. He's not missing his parents much – they were liberal, easy on drugs but he is genuinely mixed up, mostly about his own sexuality.
As spotty Mark he's soon wrestling with his locker room crush on Gregg Lowe's handsome Barry, a carefree virgin whom everyone wants to have fun with, especially the married French mistress Mrs Mumford. After Mark has failed dismally to schmooze a real live doll on a dance floor, Mrs Mumford clears the stage and addresses the classroom. That's us.
And this is the best passage of the play, adapted and directed by Russell Labey from a 1996 novel by William Sutcliffe, as it involves the comedienne Mel Giedroyc recounting her own liberation in pupil-seducing sex as a bored housewife. It's a classic revue sketch and the play then regroups as we learn that Mrs Mumford loses her job, Barry is expelled and the plot accelerates with the incursion of convenient siblings. Barry falls in love with Mark's brother Dan (Phil Matthews) while Barry's sister Louise (Ciara Janson) sets her sights on Mark as some sort of experimental favour.
"I'm not a fag hag," screams Mark, followed by: "What's a fag hag?" Although it's a short play, this endless harping on stereotypes with little real perception of sexual curiosity and adolescent hormonal activity is wearing. And the nasty edge persists in references to milk bottles full of chopped liver and shrivelled private parts.
The best thing I've seen Hoult do was a troubled young psychopath in a Wallander story, where his propensity to focus in a scary way was much better indulged than in this floppy frippery. It will take a more demanding production than New Boy to reveal his true potential as a stage actor.
In the coffin-like confines of the Trafalgar's small studio, Hoult will no doubt satisfy the yearning of Skins fans coming up close to their temporary idol. But as a schoolboy rite of passage drama, New Boy is fairly ordinary.
A version of this review has already appeared in some editions of the paper. To 11 April (0870 060 6632; www.theambassadors.com/ trafalgarstudios)
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