“Soldiers die. Women give birth.” A Boy Named Sue is a story about gender perceptions, sexuality and understanding the risks that come from not fitting in with the norm. Through a series of monologues and interactions, we hear from Louie, a naïve teenager, who is out on the streets and selling himself; Ian, who has grown up and seen the LGBT+ community change in front of him; and Sid, who is now Sue, and having a quarrel with the builders.
Essentially, the success of this piece comes from the actors who tell the stories. Charlie Jones portrays Louie with a vulnerability that is expressed through his excitable gestures and speech. Oseloka Obi delivers Ian out to the audience, levelling with us through a cool stance. However, it is Jack Harrold as Sue who captures the heart of the story and spurs on the emotions. His eyes glisten as he holds back his tears, whilst he balances his head with poise and precision with his hand delicately toying with his upper chest. The first time he is accepted as Sue, there is a smile so subtle that you could blink and miss it. Harrold manages to capture the naturally occurring human responses, that most actors just can’t seem to achieve.
Playwright, Bertie Darrell, writes for three distinct voices, which are so sincere this could very well be a piece of verbatim theatre. The insights are absolutely fascinating. Sue talks a lot about gender perceptions, whilst wearing a silk dressing gown and seductive, red lipstick. He explains a woman “has to be written letters and loved by a man”. The words hardly touch Harrold’s lips, as he eloquently speaks them.
Claudia Lee’s direction works with the subtleties of the actors; essentially, there isn’t much movement. Sometimes this works. In fact, Harrold’s performance is so intriguing that the lack of movement doesn’t really matter. When he does move, the audience can really feel why. When characters interact with each other however, something is lost. The conversations between Sid and Ian, are not quite smooth enough or regular enough to avoid fracturing the structure, despite the clever staging. Perhaps the stories of the three individuals need to be more intertwined, or perhaps not at all, but something about it is just a little off-balance.
A Boy Named Sue is playing at C nova until 29 August. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.