Gillian Greer’s adaptation of Eliza Clark’s novel has a lot to offer – above all a fantastic solo performance from Aimée Kelly. Tension is crammed into the story of a disturbed art photographer, who may be or may not be a serial killer. Not a moment of its 80 minutes is dull. I’m just not sure Boy Parts as challenging as it should be.
Kelly makes our antiheroine Irina hold attention with an acerbic tongue and plenty of extreme views. There’s no doubt about her contempt for people, and her lust for the young men she shoots is uncomfortable to watch. Kelly handles the script’s dark humour with considerable control – and then the next moment gives you goosebumps.
Yet, do Irina’s mental health problems make the play too easy? We are never sure if the dark fantasies are really enacted. Or what role self-medication in the form of drink and alcohol plays. An unreliable narrator can be a great device but, in a one-person show, other perspectives are especially tricky. Maybe the ideas are disturbing enough. But is there the danger we dismiss Irina?
The twist of having a female photographer exploiting men is an interesting one, especially the question about the very possibility of her being a threat. The chills are here, the language visceral. But there’s a snag again. We might wonder how much the work is being shaped by a curator Irina wants to please – and, of course, this gallery owner is a man. And many ideas feel rushed. That Irene dismisses her personal security, her self-esteem, even being abused, all shock – how could they not? – but each needs expanding on.
The production itself is strong. Sara Joyce’s direction is firm, and the show looks great. Peter Butler’s set recalls an exhibition space and benefits the video work from Hayley Egan. The whole show is aided by Christopher Nairne’s cinematic lighting design. But, with all this, we’re moving into the territory of style over substance. Boy Parts is crammed and yet feels fleeting. The show has great moments but doesn’t add up to much.
Until 25 November 2023
Photo by Joe Twigg
It’s peculiar to see a play that is powerful, deals with important issues and is brilliantly performed yet still requires that people should think seriously before watching it. But dealing with suicide in such a frank, indeed brutal, manner, no matter how well intentioned this project from Millie Thomas and her director Sara Joyce is, needs to be approached with caution.
Thomas is both writer and performer. As the former, her device is to present the character of Alice, who after a long battle with mental health has taken her own life, as a ghost. The idea stumbles at times; so close to some existential thought experiment it proves a distraction. Alice’s increasing confusion about her state forms an oppressive undertow to the play. But using the suicide’s frequent fantasy dispels the myth that people are seriously motivated by selfishness or a form of revenge when they act so desperately. And Thomas’s characterisation is carefully planned – Alice is not a sympathetic creation. A touch too generic a Millennial, she shocks with her sexual frankness and is basically spoilt. Care is taken avoid any “reason” for Alice’s depression – there’s no backstory of trauma or tensions in her young life. It’s a lesson I wish I’d been taught years ago as I struggled not to dismiss the condition of a bright and beautiful friend with no “cause” to suffer. A wicked sense of humour and intelligence aren’t enough to stop you being angry at Alice. It all adds up to a performance that is uncomfortable and confrontational. Joyce embraces the fits and starts in the script, making Dust remarkably unforgiving and consistently interesting.
It is as a performer that Thomas truly excels. Taking on the roles of friends and family who Alice visits, she switches genders and ages with astonishing speed. We instantly know which character she is depicting. The delivery is faultless. It’s only at the end that Thomas’s judgement might be questioned. After reliving the tragedy from not one but multiple perspectives – with so much sadness and anger it is exhausting – Thomas cuts short the clapping to appeal for The Samaritans. In keeping with her spirit, here’s a link. But Thomas is wrong to curtail the applause for herself – I’ve seldom seen a performance that deserves it more.
Until 13 October 2018
Photo by Richard Southgate