With the demands of the tour and the baby it’s been a little while since my wife and I have had a proper night out. So it’s pretty amazing when we get one and things are always in danger of getting messy, though we managed to keep things on the rails tonight. And the rarity of some grown-up time makes it seem like the greatest luxury imaginable. These were the kinds of nights we could have any time we wanted before we were foolish enough to breed, but we never appreciated how good they were until we weren’t allowed to have them any more. As I say in Happy Now? you can only appreciate how great life without a baby is when you have a baby. Or by going to prison for twenty years.
We were going to the Almeida Theatre to see Boy. It’s up in Angel, where we had our first non-official date over eight years ago. It’s crazy that we’ve been together for about three quarters of the time that I have lived in Shepherd’s Bush. Time has flown since we met.
Tonight we went for an early Thai meal and then picked up our tickets to the theatre. With half an hour before the show and the theatre bar being a bit full we popped out looking for a bar and found a nearby cocktail place that was offering two for one drinks. By the time the cocktails were ready we had to down them pretty fast and we’d already had a couple of drinks so I was worried I might be too blotto to enjoy the play. But it was fun and somehow felt like we were being naughty. It’s so important to let your hair down when you’re parents. You’re very much doing a thankless 24 hour job together and it’s easy to forget that you got together because you liked to play.
Boy was pretty much amazing (but then I was pissed). I hadn’t really known what to expect and didn’t know too much about it beforehand. It’s a simple enough story about an isolated 17 year old making his way through a day, trying and failing to engage with females, looking for friends who clearly don’t like him and being dissed by his delightfully profane 8 year old sister. But it’s the performances and the staging and the sheer scale of the thing that makes this special. It seemingly has a cast of thousands, diverse in age (with the youngest performer being maybe 3) and race (in a way that reflects society, though is unusual to see in the theatre) and an incredible stage in the middle of the small theatre, set on a conveyor belt, where bus stops, front doors, toilets, supermarket check outs and all sorts of other sets are added and taken away almost magically by the crew. The cast also have some kind of secret gizmo which allows them to hook into the conveyor belt and sit or lie down on invisible chairs or beds. The action and dialogue overlaps so you’d get a slightly different experience in a different seat.
I also liked the subtle but oppressive sound design, creating the menace of the city, like a pulsating dead heart of the metropolis kept beating with surging electricity.
The 70 minute play (thankfully quite short for a man with a bladder full of booze) whizzed by and it was a real snapshot of the underbelly of this city. There was a kind of grim irony to loads of middle class people paying £36 each to get a vision of what life is like for the disenfranchised in this city, when they could just go outside and watch it for free. But that’s part of the power of the piece and I am sure it’s deliberate too. I had worried that we might be in for a patronising evening of politicising speeches and heavy-handed drama, but the simplicity of the action is what makes it so effective. The young man playing the lead perfectly captures the awkwardness and sexual frustration of that age, as well as the delusional hope that every woman or girl he encounters might be interested in him, from the doctor examining his penis at an STI clinic to the precocious underage girls at the bus stop.
It’s a day without much incident - an expedition into town to try and bump into his mates who might ne in Sports Direct, ends in the discovery that the shop has just closed and the one hugely dramatic event is underplayed and happens when we’re not there to see it.
Occasionally I was distracted with worries about what they would do if the conveyor belt broke down or one of the crew put on the wrong bit of set or when an actor failed to kick his foot into place to make the magic chair thing work. But overall I was entranced and can’t remember being so jarred and surprised by a piece of theatre for a long time (mind you I haven’t really been to the theatre for a long time). It’s highly recommended.
And afterwards we went back to the cocktail bar for another drink. It felt like we’d partied the night away, but we were in bed by 10pm. Still when you’re a parent that in itself is a major victory. And thank God everything was good. When nights out are so rare, wasting one on a terrible play would have been a disaster. As ever I am aware of the importance of making every show I do as good and entertaining as possible. Because nights off are more precious. I never realised how valuable when I had a seemingly endless supply of them (or when like the Boy in the play I wandered aimlessly hoping that something might happen to me by chance), but I like them more now I understand their worth.