Production photos: Timothy Spall, Daniel Mays and George MacKay in The Caretaker, Old Vic
Comments and critics on Timothy Spall's The Caretaker, Old Vic

Review: When the staging is bigger than the play - Boy, Almeida

Landscape_1470x690_WebThere is a lot going on in the Almeida auditorium and Leo Butler's Boy hasn't even started. The performance space is in the middle and is a travellator that weaves in a wiggly loop through the audience. Actors sit at various points of the slowly moving track coming to within inches of those sat closest.

I say 'sit' because they don't have chairs or any outward sign of support. It is something that immediately fascinates and continues to do so after the play starts when the get up, walk around and then 'sit' on invisible chairs again.

Immediately opposite our seats is the production photographer. Whenever actors glide in front of us he seems to snap away - something that continues throughout. Once the play starts pieces of set are fixed onto the travellator and removed from two points one right next to use. That becomes fascinating to watch too.

And here is the problem. There is so much going on that isn't performance that the plays gets a little bit lost in it all. It doesn't help that the travellator is quite noisy and despite the actors having mics it is sometimes difficult to hear what is being said despite sitting so close.

I can see what they are trying to do but this is a subtle story and I wonder if there aren't better ways to stage it (and save the travellator idea for something else).

The boy of the title is 17-year-old Liam (Frankie Fox) and the play follows him over roughly 24 hours. It is a depressing 24 hours as he wanders with little purpose, disconnected from society. His friends have all gone off without him and you only partially find out why. He is moved on wherever he goes, gets into minor scrapes with officials and when one man tries to help he is ushered away. He has fallen through the cracks and is in a limbo where he is too old for school and to young for help with finding work.  He doesn't always help himself but his constant strive to fit in, to connect, to find purpose does pluck at the heart strings.

There are questions too, such as to where his parents are - he does seem to go home at one point - and why he doesn't seem to have any real friends. With everything that is going on I wonder whether I missed some key points or if those are intended gaps in Liam's story. In the end I'll probably remember Boy for the gimmicky staging and the invisible chairs (and the beautiful dog that appears briefly in one scene) rather than for the play itself which seems a bit of a shame.

Boy is around one hour and 20 minutes without and interval and is on at the Almeida until May 28. I'm going to give it three and a half stars.