Looking inside the mind of a teenage boy isn’t always the most attractive prospect; this bright new musical by Dougal Irvine uses high-octane sequences of song and dance to shed light on the inner worlds of four boys in the no man’s land between school and A-level results. The History Boys this isn’t – although two boys have places at Oxford, the show is light on precocity and heavy on thuggery, with booze and girls top of the conversational menu and polysyllabic words a distant dream.
Stuck in a Departure Lounge waiting for their delayed flight home from a riotous holiday in Malaga, the four boys realise that each is hiding a secret and their week in the sun was less blissful than it seemed. The orphan Pete (Michael Fletcher) looks on in pain as the other boys ring their parents, shy Ross (Glenn Adamson) regrets making no headway with the girl of his dreams Sophie (Hayley Hampson) JB (Joshua Meredith) has friends-forever fantasies that aren’t reciprocated, and Jordan (Jamie Barnard) hides his true sexuality under a reputation for being a stud.
The script uses a series of comically self-conscious flashbacks to shed light on each character’s secrets, highlighting the unreliability of memory as their insecurities intrude on what really happened. The boys’ voices blend perfectly in group numbers that are enlivened by sparkling choreography and impressive gymnastics, capturing the energy and simultaneous cocky self-confidence and deep insecurities of adolescence. The lewd and crude combine with riotous, well-observed humour, particularly in their hilarious defence of ‘gay’ as an insult, as Jordan looks on awkwardly. However, less insight is on display in the development of characters; Hayley Hampson inhabits the stage beautifully as the girl every teenage boy lusts after, but unfortunately her role is notably underwritten, a vapid temptress whose motivations make little sense even to someone with an emotional age of over 18. The script prioritises song and dance over plot development, at one point shattering dramatic tension with a seemingly irrelevant number about the joys of Spanish hospitality, complete with obligatory pantomimed bullfighting.
With a cast of only five and excellently judged onstage musical accompaniment by two guitars, this is a pocket-sized production that completely avoids the sense of sprawling amateurishness that Fringe musicals are often haunted by; everything and everyone is in its place, with the choreography and setting meticulously planned and carefully arranged. The self-contained nature of this musical is also one of its failings, though; without a plot of any complexity, the Departure Lounge setting, though relieved by flashbacks, often feels claustrophobic, unhelped by the admittedly very funny real time announcements of estimated boarding time.
The endearing quartet of performances at this show’s heart have appeal for anyone fascinated by the inner psyche of a teenage boyband, but unfortunately the script doesn’t delve much deeper than favourite colour and first pet. Still, the spectacular gymnastics, strong singing and sheer overflowing energy of the performances make this a thoroughly enjoyable evening for lovers of the camper side of musical theatre.
*** – 3 Stars
Departure Lounge played at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For more information see the Edinburgh Fringe website.