Review: Boys by Ella Hickson

Bath University Student Theatre

The Museum of Bath at Work

Boys by Ella Hickson is a quintessential snapshot of the lives of four boys in their last year of university. The quite literal highs and unavoidable lows of partying hard and the trial of student life. But more than that it gives us a glimpse of the insecurities and fears of students as they transition from the education system into real life – the realisation that the party is coming to an end and all of the pent-up emotions and angst that have been avoided come crashing down with cataclysmic force.

The student flat is shared by four mates. Benny, the quiet thoughtful one. Timp, the party animal. Mack, a misunderstood bad-boy who struggles with commitment and Cam, a world class musician. Four very separate individuals held together by little more than the four walls of their filthy, litter-strewn, shared accommodation. Add to the mix Laura (Timp’s girlfriend) and Sophie whose emotions and feelings are incredibly complicated and you begin to see the poignant and interesting tale unfold.

What struck me most about this piece was how it related to its audience, an audience almost entirely comprised of students which was great to see. As the plot developed you could see audience members turning to each other and giving each other knowing looks as they saw situations which were familiar to them or they had perhaps experienced themselves. It’s brilliant for a piece of writing to resonate with its audience in this way and this was perhaps the triumph of the piece. I also loved the Disney references and how they related to the insecurities of childhood and the need to sometimes hide and immerse yourself in something that was safe.

The more surreal the play got the more real the characters became and the more you could empathise with their individual journeys.

Benny, played by Terry Thomas gave a quiet (perhaps sometimes too quiet), and refined performance expressing well his characters unique view of the world and the daily inner-turmoil he found himself in.

Timp, played by Ben Cochrane had boundless energy and produced the most laughs of the evening with some great comic timing and fearless attack.

Cam, played by Seb Lee was perhaps one of the most understated characters but one of the most easy to relate to and he showed the pressures of the decisions of his life well.

Mack, played by Neil Hindley on the whole showed the emotional journey of his character, with the ups and downs to good effect and I was with him until almost the very end where I’m afraid he lost me and it felt that the real emotion was a little false – if you are going to cry then cry but please don’t pretend to cry as this took away from an otherwise great performance.

Laura, was played bravely by Maddie Winn – it’s just a shame those of us near the back lost some of your more comedic moments involving sushi – this is inevitable in a venue without raked seating though where anything lower than waist level gets lost.

Sophie, played by Ruth Eagle gave, for me, the stand-out performance of the night. She understood and acted her characters’ journey beautifully and really built up the emotional turmoil nearer the end. There was a particularly poignant scene between her and Laura (Winn) which was perfectly executed, fuelled with emotion and brilliant to watch – you could have heard a pin drop during this scene.

The set was very simple with a doorway that looked at risk of bringing the whole lot crashing down at points and an opaque window which the characters kept “looking” out of. More attention to detail was needed with little things like the black bags (they were obviously empty and should have looked full). The lighting was simple but worked well particularly the red light through the window. The sound was cued brilliantly although at times the design wasn’t quite perfect – for example the sound of drumming outside which was referenced to in the dialogue many times which never actually materialised and the badly looped riot audio – if I were to be really picky I’d ask where the sound of the continuously used boiling kettle was? These are small points but would have gone a long way to polishing the production and lifting it from being good to great.

On the whole, if you want a humorous and sometimes dark glimpse of the trials and tribulations of student life then I recommend seeing this production – especially if you are, or have recently been a student. It is not a perfect production but this is more down to the script (which could do with significant cutting and tightening and perhaps a different, more effective point for the interval) than the strong performances from the cast and effective direction from Hannah Moran.

Luke John Emmett