A Boy Named Sue

Wed 3rd – Mon 29th August 2016

reviews

Julia O'Driscoll

at 23:41 on 7th Aug 2016

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Bertie Darrell’s 'A Boy Named Sue' is raw, brave, and admirable. It explores the lives of three homosexual males living in an increasingly isolating and discriminating society devoid of a sense of community. Set in London, this three-part monologue of magic realism tells how the characters’ disparate lives collide, and the consequences of these encounters.

The writing can be a little disorientating at times – not that this is a criticism. Questions of power, insurmountable barriers, and imagined vengeance are raised and left unanswered, exemplifying the inequality that Sid, played by Jack Harrold, particularly battles with. Harrold has mastered his poised portrayal of Sid as a person both quietly controlled and elegantly self-destructing, around whom the world seems to be imploding. His wry hints at the ease with which we are all susceptible to the lures of instant gratification through social media are seen explicitly as Louie, whose entire existence is reliant on technology for his day to day survival, hurries between meetings upon meetings with faceless strangers. And between these two is Ian who is trying to go about regaining some kind of normal structure or meaning to his life.

The casting is a triumph; there are no weak performances. Each character develops slowly and through unique interactions, which spark ruptures of realisation. As an audience member, I have to say that there were some moments I found a little inaccessible. Perhaps others didn't experience this, but there were points when I felt incredibly aware that I was an outsider looking in, although equally I think this allowed the characters to maintain the integrity of their personas. Indeed, ‘A Boy Named Sue’ seems to require varying levels of participation from the spectator, perhaps in considering to what extent they can relate to the play, or in considering why perhaps they cannot: why do certain moments seem to personally resonate more than others? What has an individual's place in society protected them from? In this way, it is challenging and certainly thought-provoking, and leaves you with a contemplative duty.

‘A Boy Named Sue’ is not always an easy show to watch- but it should not be. The issues grappled with are real and hard-hitting, but are portrayed with a sensitivity and consideration which does not diminish or reduce the characters' stories and experiences. It is an impressive result of excellent directing, thoughtful writing, and superb acting.

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Amy Mace

at 09:12 on 8th Aug 2016

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In this hard-hitting piece of social criticism from former Bristol Universitystudent Bertie Darrell, the isolation, oppression and internal struggle faced by members of the LGBT community is unflinchingly portrayed in a stunning three part monologue. Three exceptional male leads tell three very different but cleverly intertwined stories of their heart breaking struggles for community and identity in a heteronormative world. Their power over their own bodies, their sense of self-worth and their search for a purpose is threatened in a London where spaces for (and the acceptance of) LGBT men and women appear to be disappearing.

The script is poetic, sensitive, and at times made for difficult viewing, as the show’s sparse set left no space behind which the actors or their material could hide. One could sometimes get lost in the overlapping and interwoven stories, but this only added to the atmosphere of pain, confusion and desperation common to each narrative. Clever staging facilitates dialogues across imagined spaces that feel startlingly real, the absence of prop and set a testament to the writing’s honesty and strength. Only a spotlight is used to occasionally direct attention, with the trio remaining onstage throughout so that no one story could be side-lined. The intensity of the staging in an already intimate theatre only adds to the force of the stories being told.

Jack Harrold’s performance as Sue stands out, his gaze unblinking and unforgiving as he relays, with dark and contemptuous humour, the dignity denied Sue by her society and the self-deprecating acceptance she professes to have acquired. The terrified and isolated individual that lies behind her poised exterior constitutes a sobering representation of members of a community under attack, seeking some kind of solace among themselves as the outside world seems unready to accept them. The reality of such a crisis in our culture is terrifying, and this is what Darrell’s piece makes obvious again and again. The discrimination and confusion represented in the stories on stage highlights the real and terrifying consequences of society’s misguided and inexplicable prejudices. Louie’s (Charlie Jones) harrowing attempt at achieving power and autonomy over his own body is a particularly shocking reminder of the unimaginable and potentially fatal consequences of unrelenting discrimination. There is nobody to keep him safe even from himself.

This piece gives an invaluable voice to a community that is too often silenced. The stories it tells are unforgettable, the strength of its characters admirable, the reality of their struggle chilling. No more can be said; nothing can do this incredible piece of drama more justice than it did (and will continue to do) itself.

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