Boys Don't Cry

Gavin Crippin
Á Rebours Theatre Co
Camden Head Theatre
(2010)

Publicity photo

This young Manchester company makes its first London appearance on the Camden Fringe with a brief but heartfelt play about young love. Gavin Crippin has an excellent ear for natural dialogue and his short scenes of conversations between friends seem very real but he doesn't always make what they are talking about entirely clear, though that is not helped by the problems of a venue where they are wedged into a slot in a packed festival programme.

If I interpret an opening sequence of projected postcards and snap shots correctly, Danny (Matthew Hattersley) has been out to try life in Australia where he couldn't stop thinking about Jess (Eve Burley), the girl he left behind, and especially a holiday they spent in New Brighton. Now he is back and wants to pick things up with her again but she seems to be involved with his friend Jason who is married, or at least shacked up, with her friend, the tolerant Sarah (Nickie Pryce). At one point, I think, Jason has driven Danny to Leeds to get a plane back to Australia, but then Danny has also been away to look after a dying granddad so maybe he never went there previously.

I may have got it wrong but at least the characters seemed to know what was going on and, moment by moment, they held my interest as they met each other in bars which seemed quite happy to serve Sarah's under-age sister Charlie (Gemma Flannery). At one point Jason announces he's twenty-eight and worried about being too settled and stuck in a rut. That is a reflection of the lifestyle of their generation perhaps but to me these characters all seem much younger and immature - they certainly have no problems in socialising with a fifteen-year old.

Crippin, directing his own play, has staged it very simply with just a couple of round pub tables and his actors taking props necessary for each scene on with them. The space available means one set of characters must wait for those in the previous scene to exit before they can go on and that breaks things up a little. Things go more smoothly when he freezes people at one table and with a quick fade up and down transfers attention to those at the other, sometimes with a projected title announcing a time lapse.

I saw their first performance in this small L-shaped room so it is not surprising that they did not always judge how strongly to project performances correctly, especially when playing with the daylight of a dull afternoon penetrating the blinds and lit, as far as I could see, by one lamp only, and that largely backlight shining down on one half of the audience,. Presumably all other lamps were set for a different show in unhelpful directions. In the circumstances I think the cast did well, though there are moments when they need to up what would be a good television performance to make it reach even so close an audience.

I know the mobile phone has become a regular part of modern life but it is very difficult to give mobile chat the energy of theatre and communicate with the audience. In one case Crippin uses the neat ploy of turning the actors face to face as they get into the conversation but I do wish characters, like the audience, would turn their mobiles off! It was certainly a mistake to have an entire scene in which a character enters, lies down, sends a text message, which we see on a screen above his head, and then exits. If texting makes dramatic sense let's just see the message without staging the sending and get on with the next scene. The place for mobiles is in those interactive shows where a message to members of the audience becomes part of the event.

Ends at this venue 8th August 2010

Reviewer: Howard Loxton