Putting on a play at Oxford that centres around the trepidation and fear of finishing university seems like a pretty safe bet, but BOYS is in no way an easy production to pull off. The script constantly jumps between captivating and unsettling; hilarious and horrific; genuine and superficial, and it is the interplay between all of these that makes it so difficult to pull off. However, it was a pleasure to watch.
BOYS is set at the end of the university year in your average kitchen of a student flat. Benny (Alasdair Linn) and Mack (Josh Shepherd-Smith) are two students who live with prodigious violinist Cam (Joe Woodman) and hedonistic Timp (Charlie Wade). Heaps of bin bags and rubbish that any student will empathise with have not been cleared away, though in their case it is due to a refuse strike, and they are all moving out. As the show progresses, we become aware of the burdens they all carry and why the friends are at odds with one another.
The chemistry and interplay between the parts was done brilliantly. Benny’s preoccupations and worries irritate the world-weary Mack and the passionate Sophie (Georgie Dettmer) stands precariously in between them both. Charlie Wade thoroughly embodied Timp’s denial and refusal to grow up which is something many of the characters, and audience, have experienced. Tara Kelly’s Laura (Timp’s girlfriend) moves seamlessly in and out of perceptive thoughts while she wonders what it is to be an adult and Cam feels a sense of dread that is omnipresent in many ways throughout the play. The sum of all these expertly executed emotions summarises what it is to be a student about to enter the wider world. The unity portrayed between the characters and their sometimes-opposing views, though innately difficult to perform, is what makes this production a joy to watch. The ensemble is brilliant, and the casting done perfectly.
The Burton Taylor Studio was a perfect fit for this intimate, passionate and uncomfortable performance as the proximity to the noise, rubbish and emotions makes the viewer feel a part of the gang. The set, which is a perfect reproduction of a student house, is a great aid to this. Though some of the lines and cues need a bit of ironing out, the only area I believe needed more work was the building of tension. Without wanting to reveal too much I will merely say that this play needs the sense of dread lurking in its wings because without this, certain reveals seem too sudden and are therefore unsatisfying.
Overall, it was a thoroughly enjoyable show that all Oxford students should see. The problems it raises are ones we all shall face sooner rather than later, and the cast elegantly performs characters that we can all easily recognise.