An utter must-see, though you won’t be comfortable
Exams are over, the graduation parties are coming to a close, and the rubbish collectors have stopped coming.
So begins the play: a flat with unnervingly bare scaffolding, overflowing sink, empty cans, almost-empty boxes of own-brand Coco Pops. It's a sight viscerally familiar to anyone who's ever been a student, regardless of how tidy you tend to keep your own abode. In said flat are four of the titular Boys: Benny (Conor Dumbrell) who's just graduated with a first and likes sitting atop the fridge; Cam (Tom Taplin), a virtuoso violinist who's got his big break that night; Mack (Louis Norris), who's apparently just slept with a seventeen-year-old virgin; and Timp (Adam Mirsky), a careening pirate-hatted merrymaker with an aspirin bottle full of MDMA.
You'll feel tempted to think that Timp overruns the show at the start (and Mirsky is brilliant in the role, drawing more laughs than anyone and winning the award for Most Sustained Scottish Accent) – don't give in to the temptation. As the play builds, the dynamics between the characters are built up and the sheer emotional depth of the play starts to be fleshed out, particularly with the addition of Laura (Maya Yousif) and Sophie (Jessica Murdoch). Light-hearted moments are seamlessly woven against moments of shock and bleakness, mundanity cleaves close to horror and tenderness, and all the while the rubbish builds. And builds. And builds.
It's cruel to stage this play for students. Thank God they have, but it's cruel. The nostalgia (but it's not just nostalgia, it's recognition, it's yearning, it's a painful, acute understanding) lulls you into delight and then spears you in the stomach: how the characters interact is so brilliantly accurate and nothing's allowed to fall into an easy narrative, how Laura and Timp's beautifully simple intimacy is always troubled in our minds by what else we know but it's never made un-beautiful, either, and the drugs are liberating and the drugs are a trap and she's dancing because she wants to let go and because she can't stop and it's painful. It's fucking painful to watch at times.
And then a moment of levity comes and relieves it, for a little while. This is a seriously funny play ('you're asking a recreational drug user if he likes multicoloured animals?'), though I wouldn't call it a comedy. I hesitate to say it 'deals with' some heavy topics, too – suicide, cheating, the helpless questioning of 'what do I do now?' – because that implies it neatly dusts them off, solves them and puts them away in the corner. In fact, the characters usually can't look at them head-on, at least not for more than a moment at a time, and solutions and finality aren't much of a feature of this play. We crave an answer, like the characters do, and we have to contend with uncertainty alongside them.
Every actor in this play is crucial to the whole: Benny's emotional sensitivity and shaky idealism; Mack's cynicism, his attempts to detach himself, keep himself together (I feel the need to apologise to Louis Norris: I thought for the first bit that he was a bit wooden, but actually he played it exactly right, particularly when the cracks started to show); Timp's unshakeable vivacity, and the points at which it starts to falter; Laura, wanting to take the shot, knowing that it won't fix anything. It's an interlocking net of different lives and it doesn't promise any firm answers. It just promises these magnetic, difficult people.
The set is perfect havoc, the lighting timed impeccably, the music on cue (at one point it dies just as it's reaching the climax and I don't know if it was on purpose but it made me shiver). The entire crew deserves props (unintentional pun?) for making a play which is both pitch-perfect in terms of direction and which makes it feel like if every stage direction in the book went wrong, it wouldn't matter. BOYS feels right. It put a lump in my throat that I still can't shake. It will make you miss parties you hated.
I don't want to over-explain it. Just see the last performance if you can.