New Boy @ Trafalgar Studios 2, London

cast list
Nicholas Hoult, Mel Giedroyc, Ciara Janson, Gregg Lowe, Phil Matthews

directed by
Russell Labey
William Sutcliffe’s 1996 novella New Boy, on which director Russell Labey has based this adaptation, hurtled along at a terrific pace as it sketched out central character Mark’s adolescence and his subsequent coming of age.

Labey’s production, with Skins and About A Boy star Nicholas Hoult in his debut west end role as Mark, similarly rarely leaves time for reflection or melancholia if a laugh can be squeezed in instead.

Set in the leafy north London suburb of Harrow at a time when coming-of-age, gay-themed indie films like Beautiful Thing and Get Real were beginning to tackle sexual confusion from an everyday English suburban perspective, New Boy’s story is inevitably of its time. It’s a curiosity that it has taken 13 years for it to find its way to the stage.
Schoolboy Mark takes an instant fancy to the almond-scented new boy of the title, Barry, but refuses to see why he’s attracted to him. In colourful language he time and again makes excuses for his increasingly besotted behaviour, scared of repelling his new plaything or, worse, being seen as somehow different to the conventional teenager he aspires to be. As narrator, Hoult’s Mark is droll on the minutae of his schoolboy existence, justifying his actions and thoughts with pithy asides.

From leering at Barry in changing rooms to nurturing his new friend’s sexual awakening (with the opposite sex), Mark believes himself to be comfortably in control of events. But it soon transpires that he’s not the only one falling for Barry’s golden charms.

Mel Giedroyc of Mel and Sue enjoys her show-stealing cameo as Mrs Mumford, the married mother-of-two French teacher shackled by a mortgage and a lifestyle she considers boring who tries to rediscover her youth by having an affair with one – namely Barry, played with cocky insousciance by Gregg Lowe. She gets plenty of laughs, but Giedroyc has enough in her arsenal to give the character a sympathetic side too. And when Mrs Mumford falls under Barry’s spell her actions set in motion a chain of events that force Mark to confront who he is and what he wants.

For his part Hoult doesn’t for a minute resemble the Jewish caricature of Sutcliffe’s pen. Instead he represents a far more confident, fey individual more in keeping with his Skins character. But Mark’s lack of confidence in his looks perhaps signals a general adolescent trait of poor self regard rather than a miscasting of Hoult’s obviously poster-boy visage. And where laughs rely on comic timing, he does everything right.

“It’s funny who you lose along the way to finding yourself,” is New Boy’s final line. It’s a cry for a universally lost perspective, a world, even, that we all lose when we grow up and deal with the triflingly mundane matters Mrs Mumford must cope with. As such Sutcliffe’s tale is a paean to regret at innocence lost, together with an acceptance that regret is essential to the learning and growing experience of life as we all tread toward eventual and unstoppable adulthood. There’s little that’s new in this, but it does ensure the play has something for everyone. It’s a tribute to Labey’s pacey direction and his strong cast that New Boy covers this ground while still smiling.

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