fringe: the boy james

belt up theatre's the boy jamesMy brain is still trying to process everything about Belt Up Theatre's production of The Boy James...

Mostly because I reacted to it on a completely emotional, instinctive level... and my brain really hasn't caught up yet.

I may have to dip into some partial spoiler territory for this review, so you have been warned.

This is the second play during this Fringe Festival to make me weep... not just cry and not just during the performance either. The Boy James stayed with me.

Part of that, I think, is the fact that it's a performance that never really begins and never really ends.

The Boy (played masterfully by Jethro Compton... more on him later) opens the door to the little room the play takes place in and invites the audience inside, greeting everyone as they enter. And the room itself is... it's every secret hidden room, cubby house, backyard tent and hiding place you ever had when you were a kid... but like you imagined it then... full of things found on adventures and big squashy couches and it's closed off so nobody can find you.

And then before the action really starts there's some moments of audience participation... mostly, I think, to put the audience at ease and get everyone in the right frame of mind. Of course that works better if you have an audience who will play along, and since nobody really seemed to want to, I volunteered to be "the detective" in a game of "Wink Murder" (which I was really bad at by the way).

I'm actually finding it really hard to talk about The Boy James in relation to a play or a performance... it's something that happened, that I was involved in...

And I was involved, because in addition to being "the detective", there's a moment at the end of the play where The Boy asks someone to read a letter that he cannot... and when he asked the first time, nobody spoke... and my heart was already breaking for him by this stage, so when he asked again I had to help him, I couldn't leave him there all alone. So I went up and sat at his desk and read the letter to him while he crouched alongside me.

To be honest, I'm not completely sure now what the letter actually said... I was concentrating so hard on reading it clearly and trying not to cry that I don't remember all the details, although the meaning behind the letter itself hit me as I was walking down the stairs afterwards.

Once I was finished, the play was essentially over... but there was no curtain call, no applause, no moment to release the audience from the amazing spell they were under (or should have been... I did wonder how everybody else wasn't a complete mess afterwards like I was). The Boy simply got groups of people to clasp hands and help each other find the way out.

But before I left I went to The Boy, knelt down beside him and very quietly told him that I was sorry and thanked him. And with this tiny, wisp of a voice he thanked me in return.

And I wasn't even reacting to the actor, Jethro, I was reacting to The Boy... all I wanted to do was comfort him.

That, in a nutshell, was what was so astounding and magical and brilliant about Jethro Compton's performance. He's a grown man playing a little boy... but you forget that... everything about him is this little boy who wants to play and have adventures.... his blue and white striped pyjamas, his speech, his mannerisms, everything. And when he was in pain I just wanted to make it better.

That's not to say that the other two actors weren't excellent...

Dominic Allen as James (and who is also the director) is brilliant, albeit with a reasonably brief part overall.

And Serena Manteghi is frustrating and irritating and actually slightly terrifying as The Girl... who torments, teases and taunts The Boy in ways which made me hate her... which is always the sign of a very good actor. As her scenes progressed they became increasingly hard to watch, although the climax of her scenes was predominantly hidden from my line of sight... so mostly I heard what was happening while catching a glimpse or two... which didn't make it any easier to witness.

It's one of those plays that I'm going to be mentally picking apart for days to come... it's definitely one of those things you really should see with somebody else so you can discuss it on the drive home.

But in the end, I want to say thank you to The Boy for letting me come and play, thank you to Jethro for a masterful performance and thank you to everyone involved for giving me that experience.

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