The Boy Who Cried review (The Hope Theatre, Islington)

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The Boy Who Cried green light

This fascinating new plays works as a bitter commentary on the bureaucraticization of torture, and the difficulties of dealing with mental illness.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

This past Friday night, I returned to The Hope Theatre — the marvelous little black-box space dedicated to new talent above The Hope and Anchor pub in Islington — for their latest production, a new play by writer Matt Osman. The Boy Who Cried adds a little coda to its own title: Wolf, lending a clever hint to what you’re in for.

In a world not very removed from our own, lycanthropy is a social and criminal problem, and young Sam Elvin (Jordan Mallory-Skinner) is suspected of being a werewolf just as a little girl has gone missing, presumably devoured by him. And so Thompson (Jake Curran), a man with the chillingly euphemistic title of “Protection Officer,” comes to interview him in his home, where by law Sam can be kept prisoner and interrogated for 28 days… until the next full moon, that is.

The small stage area at the Hope becomes the kitchen of Sam’s flat, where all the action of the play takes place, and director Mary Franklin ensures that the audience crowded around feels the claustrophobia, mental and physical, of Sam’s predicament as Thompson, well, hounds him over the course of that month. Though Thompson begins his month of questioning as an apparently reasonable man just doing a job deemed necessary — which is insidious enough to begin with — he becomes increasingly unhinged as the month progresses; Curran is actually terrifying toward the end, in that way that men can be when they believe that the violent dehumanization of another person is in the service of some greater good. Sam denies the charge against him, of course, to no avail; Mallory-Skinner, in a much bigger and much, er, juicier role than he had in Cleopatra, the previous Hope production I attended, crumbles beautifully as a sensitive guy who’s “simply” depressed — clinically so, most likely. Nothing supernatural about him at all. Or is there?

Mallory-Skinner is really, really good here: he keeps the play human-centered when it threatens to let its surrealism overwhelm all else. For not everything works as well as it might. Osman’s conceit that depression is the myth while lycanthropy is accepted fact probably needs a bit more support from the surrounding story to be plausible (and it’s in no way necessary in the grand scheme). The TV news-style reports — delivered by actors Hamish Macdougall and Loz Keystone, who double as Thompson’s henchmen — feel like they’re building to some sort of ironic punch that never comes. And the shift to Shakespearean-esque verse for the second act, which is entirely given over to Thompson’s last desperate days of interrogation, might not be the best choice; it feels a little strained.

But that’s all okay. This is experimental theatre — it’s supposed to try out new stuff. And mostly Boy succeeds. This is a fascinating couple of hours of theatre that works as a bitter commentary on the banal bureaucraticization of torture, the difficulties — or maybe the impossibilities — of dealing with mental illness within an institutional structure, and the dangers of our see-something, say-something society (for it is Sam’s own mother [Shelley Lang] who has reported his suspected lycanthropy to the authorities). It’s well worth your time.

The Boy Who Cried runs through March 29th. Tickets are available at The Hope Theatre.

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