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46

There is some lean, fit acting on display in this production of Ella Hickson’s “Boys,” but the play itself is way too fat. Come on! – one two, one two! Work those arms! Shake off that seagull-impersonation scene! Lose the character Sophie – she doesn’t add anything to the story. Keep moving! Don’t stop for that pointless anecdote about the old woman in the church, or the one about the Polish waitress in the bath. We don’t need to hear any more music from The Lion King. Somewhere inside this obese lump I know that there’s a neat little play desperate to get out. And stretch!

Like all fatsos, this play seems to get more wretched in the heat. Tonight’s performance at the C Aquila is sold out and we are all packed into a broiling theatre. I have finished my beer fifteen minutes into the show and there is still over an hour to go. After a while you can see the panic falling across the audience’s faces. “Boys” is set in the kitchen of an Edinburgh flatshare and the characters keep popping in and out, coming and going. Perhaps the play will continue forever and we will spend years sitting in this kitchen like a cat, blankly watching these characters as they change from boys to men.

At first “Boys” gives the impression of being local student writing, but Hickson is actually a big noise in London theatre. “Boys” was first performed last year in London. I imagine that it premiered in a fresh spacious theatre, with a lengthy interval in which you could venture out to buy a cool beer. Hickson is young and overpraised, which is doubtlessly why every superfluous detail of her script has been spared by the editor. Yet its Fringe custodians, the No Prophet and Close Up Theatres, need not have been so indulgent.

All of the acting in this production is superb and Will Merrick is spot on as the frumpy fusspot Benny. The writing at least avoids cliché: these “boys” are not uncomplicated lads about town, but badly-matched misfits. They are boys of different types and ages, and (for all the time that they are on stage) we never learn how the musical prodigy Cam (Alex Carden) could have ever ended up sharing a flat with the ageing druggie Timp (Wesley Lineham). The hilarity between these boys is always strained and when they are partying together, they often seem to be each dancing by themselves.

With such atmosphere already accomplished on stage, why do we need so much plot? Benny seems to just innately not fit in, and the storyline about his brother does not help to convincingly account for his character. We may suspect that he would be just as jittery without this backstory – people like him just are. Timp’s personal circumstances are equally unnecessary to explaining this fabulous character, and to do so is rather like confining a butterfly in a jar. We are left with an onerous sense of determinism, or of young men who have been enslaved by their pasts merely out of weakness of character.

Outside the boys’ apartment, Edinburgh’s citizens are rioting about substandard refuse collection: a scenario so far-fetched that it is practically science fiction. The boys are trapped in their flat with rubbish which they are not allowed to throw away – an admirably jolly metaphor for ageing. Far from being charming and boyish, these boys are unlovely, incomplete adults. Hickson seems to propose that they remain boys because they are insufficiently bourgeois; that they need to each buck up and find a fulfilling profession. Yet all of these characters eventually run away and their protracted story is abandoned without any apparent conclusion.

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