There is a large gauzy box in the middle of the Arcola stage and as your eyes adjust to the gloom you can make out a telegraph pole in the centre. Is there anyone in there? It is difficult to tell until Harry Melling's 'Boy' bursts into life scrabbling around in the dirt and dancing, semi-naked, with desperation and rage rather than joy.
This is Melling's debut play and has shades of the existential philosophy of Beckett mixed with the dark poetry of Philip Ridley. As in much of the latter's work the words are highly visual and loaded.
Boy sleeps rough, he goes door to door in North London peddling 'life's essentials', rubber gloves, dish cloths and the like for an unsympathetic boss. He tells people, on the rare occasions that doors actually open, he is on Boris' young offenders scheme. It is a rare explicit political reference, there is also a comment about empty, foreign-owned mansions on Bishop's Avenue.
But the politics of homelessness are a back drop for a piece that feels more about how that affects sense of self. There is something painfully ironic in the relentless rejection Boy experiences while peddling life's essentials. There is also something very human in his drive, his need to be remembered, his need for identity.
Melling's is a muscular and energetic performance giving Boy a skittishness that is both intimidating and heartbreaking. You can't ignore him, he looks you right in the eye. Boy is human flotsam bumping up against society's ships that glide silently past without pause.
peddling is a gripping and affecting piece that exposes dark corners and raises important questions. Can't wait to see what Harry Melling does next.
You can catch it at the Arcola Theatre until March 28 and is an hour long without an interval.
Other Harry Melling performances I've particularly enjoyed:
Cheating and cribbing this from the Angry Brigade review - Harry Melling was in Merlin with Colin Morgan who was in Mojo.