Friday, 18 November 2016


This isn't just a straight review of a theatre production and I cant be on the fence about this, this is important. The strong reaction was provoked by watching one of the hardest hitting plays I have ever seen....
When I was at school we were often invaded, at least once a year, by marauding gangs of itinerant actors. These actors had formed into threatening groups which inflicted their candy coated "hey kids, don't do drugs" message with lack lustre productions that failed to effectively carry the message. Children are not stupid so to beam well meaning platitudes at them totally fails to achieve anything other than to bore them. So, my childhood is littered with poor school theatre and missed opportunity but then there was Zammo. I grew up with Grange Hill and here was real empathetic understanding and writing at its very best. The writers crossed generational barriers time and again and inspired truly beautiful and believable performances from the young cast. Never has the anti drugs message been more strongly championed in children's television than with the "Just Say No" campaign and watching Zammo's drug addiction heart breakingly lead to his death still gets to me. That is how you convey a message to young people, you don't dumb down and you tell it how it is. Children are intelligent but it is good that they question we just need to fuel their enquiring minds.

What follows is a review of a co production between innovative theatre group Hyperfusion and Government Policy influencing organisation, Inclusion For All. This is, for the most part, intended to be spoiler free but it is also designed to inspire you to find out more. Actually, to be honest, I am writing this not as a reviewer but as a parent. What follows is not fictional, it happened and it continues to happen every day, in every school in the country. Until it stops, is stopped Boy is relevant and it needs to be played in every school in the country. So, if you are affected by what you read, find out more and then pick up the phone and ask your Headteacher to book a performance. 

'Boy' is an expertly work shopped and ingeniously delivered theatrical performance that throws the spotlight on the horrific consequences of homophobia and bullying. Told from the point of view of those that are responsible and set in all its painful detail with the victim acting as narrator.  Sarah Ellis, Artistic Director and Facilitator has crafted a performance piece of such power that it resonates with anyone that has witnessed or been the victim of abuse. From its seeming harmless origins of playground joking or "banter" events take a tragic twist and a lurch into more dangerous waters leads to perhaps inevitable but life changing consequence. What is astounding about this work is that the performed play is just the start, the catalyst and when it ends the real work starts. Hyperfusion is no mere performance company as it workshops the themes that have been introduced. By bringing homophobia and bullying, placing them at the feet of the audience it forces young minds to truly take responsibility. For their actions, yes of course, but for the responsibility of living in a society that allows them to choose their own path. Leanne Lyndsey White (Hari), Rishi Nair (Joe) John Oakes (Max) and Eunique Darko (Sam) are all consummate and talented performers who so expertly bring to life their characters that you are brought into their world from the start. In particular, Rishi Nair gets a specific mention because of the power of the performance that breathes life into Joe. Nair, like all of the actors, is living every moment of his characters desperate pain with an intensity that hits so hard it becomes almost too painful to watch. Each of the characters has a specific personality that we recognise in ourselves and others. Be under no illusion 'Boy' is an intensely personal experience that is impossible to view with any level of disconnect. We have all met Alpha characters, the leaders and those that keep the peace and 'Boy' conveys this - in 20 minutes - with such a striking conviction it is an experience that I will never forget. 

The performance I watched, at the auspicious but foreboding Portcullus House (as part of ParliOUT week) was not the normal setting for a play that focuses on homophobia within schools. Yet, as Sarah Ellis pointed out, we are still living in the aftermath of the repealed Section 28 and this somehow added to the resonance of this performance of 'Boy'. Given the touring nature of the production and that the focus is on the message conveyed and not impressive and gaudy scenery, the actors use chairs to convey both communal seating whilst at school and in the privacy of their own homes. With the advent of modern technology and so called 'smart' phones it has never been easier to keep in touch, to communicate with the wider world. Conversely, it has never been more difficult to switch off and disconnect and when bullying goes cyber there is nowhere to hide. One slip, one error of judgement that is caught on film and uploaded onto You Tube and life ends. The use of a screen to convey the barrage of textual abuse is overwhelming to witness and yet effectively conveys the almost machine gun like nature of the bullying demonstrated here. It is important to point out that none of the characters are portrayed as evil just that they lack an understanding of what their words and actions were causing. Every spoken word within the play was submitted during focus groups with actual school children and the realism and authenticity is striking. No dumbing down, no candy coating this is theatre that effectively delivers because it treats its audience with respect and doesn't patronise. 'Boy' is one of the most chilling, horrifying and screamingly relevant school productions I have ever seen. Yet at the same time I am deeply saddened that it is still needed. I was bullied at school and, whilst it seems, things have improved with wide ranging legislation and training, there are still atrocities (I don't use that word lightly) that slip through the net and slip they do in every single school in the land.

Hyperfusion guarantees that everyone viewing 'Boy' will take part at least once and to faciliate this the audience numbers are kept to a maximum 80. Considering how shy some students are this seems like a bizarrely pointless guarantee to offer, until you see how they workshop it. By dividing the audience into four sections with one actor or character heading a section you can see how 'Boy's' message is so powerfully delivered. Social Media is ever expanding with new ways of staying connected constantly being brought to us and we as adults have grown accustomed to dealing with the good and the bad sides of this. Our children, at their most formative and vulnerable points in their lives, are exposed to pressure from an ever increasing number of loud voices. When I think back to my own school experience and the bullying I endured, it now seems so much less intense. Twitter, Instragram, Facebook they are powerful tools for communcation but when utilised to harm and to damage they are devastating. Hyperfusion has crafted a production that conveys a message that must be heard by all, we have to understand that our actions have concequences and our words whether vocalised or typed can hurt. 

'Boy' is not fictional and it is based on a real series events. The banter that turned into something incidious, the gentle messing around between friends that led to an empty desk. This happens, because there were people like Jo in my school and there are people like him in your child's school as well. People like Jo cry for help but in the dull roar of a school those cries are easy to miss. Is your child Jo? Have you missed his cry? Find out more and then ring your headteacher because Jo needs to be listened to. 

You can keep up to date with 'Boy' and Hyperfusion by liking the Facebook page here or following on Twitter @Boy_WhoAmI

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