Stephen Fry went to see The Boy James on Saturday and tweeted afterwards that it had made him cry which immediately piqued my curiosity. What was it about this play that would reduce a grown man to tears?
The James of the story is the young JM Barrie, played as an enthusiastic and overly imaginative, pyjama-wearing, young boy by Jethro Compton. It is The Boy who greets you as you walk into the Southwark Playhouse's new bijou space called The Vault. He offers you an imaginary plate of sandwiches or cake (I opted for cake as it was a Victoria sponge) before ushering you into what looks like a late Victorian sitting room cum children's den.
The floor is decked with rugs, in the centre a writing desk and then around the walls various pieces of furniture and myriad chairs, sofas, pouffes and cushions are strewn around so that audience mix with performance space.
The Boy continues to talk as if we are new friends, part of his gang he is 'training up'. He starts a game of 'it' which developed into game of 'stuck in the mud' and it wasn't long before barriers had broken and most were playing along.
The Boy has a vivid imagination and has a constant stream of vibrant tales to tell of far away imagined adventures he's had with James.
It is a clever device drawing you into the world of childhood, teasing out memories of your own youthful innocence, taking you back or at least giving you a longing to return.
But The Boy James is about loss of innocence. About growing up and how experience corrupts that innocence and fun.
Gradually what was fun becomes steeped in melancholy and sadness.
The denouement sees James leaving The Boy a letter he isn't able read. He begs for someone from the audience to read it for him at which point I could understand why Stephen Fry was reduced to tears. The only flaw in this is that you are relying on someone from the audience being a good, clear reader. Our particular reader was good and acted the part rather just reading, unfortunately she had a quiet voice and it was difficult to hear all that was being said.
There was no applause at the end. Instead it was fitting that in silence we were ushered out, almost like a game, leaving The Boy crouched on the floor with the letter in his hands.
Yes it is moving. And it is also imaginative, fun and a little bit sinister in places. Not one for the shy and retiring as the small venue makes it is difficult hide. And The Boy, like a child, seeks out everyone to join in. Also not one for taking a drink into as there are few safe places to stow them while playing games. Definitely worth a look though if you are happy to get stuck in.
It's got a rating of 3.3 out of five on UpTheWestEnd.com and I'd give it 4 out of five.
There wasn't a programme with the cast bio's but I do have a connection of sorts. In the audience was one Philip Ridley who wrote Mercury Fur in which our Mr W starred so I'm assuming that the two met at some point. He's got a new play schedule at the Southwark Playhouse in the Spring so I guess he was checking things out.