A work-in-progress reading of Boy Out The City, a one man show written and performed by Declan Bennett, was the mid-week instalment of Rally Fest; a week-long celebration of LGBTQ+ stories and voices at The Turbine Theatre. It is an autobiographical piece set amidst Bennett’s lockdown experience in Oxfordshire, apart from his Irish boyfriend, and stories of his early life fork off from this central narrative.
First and foremost, this play is very funny. Bennett’s comedic chops are impressive and he wins the audience over from the outset, as he makes a topical joke about having to be seated with his drink before he can justifiably remove his face covering. From that point onwards he evokes almost constant laughter from the audience with his humorous writing, which ranges from intelligent wit to laugh-out-loud stupid, and his unwaveringly charismatic delivery.
Bennett’s energy serves him well throughout the piece, not just in its light-hearted beginnings, and he is able to translate this into a sharper, more frantic and anxious performance as he digs deeper into his insecurities. He does well to maintain his focus in these moments, whilst regularly referring back to the script, though he does risk losing some of the impact of his words by delivering them at such a speed for an extended period of time.
If the funny, conversational, almost stand-up-esque nature of Boy Out The City is the piece’s strength, then some of the more serious moments are it’s weaker areas. That is not at all to say that they are in fact weak, but with the highs being so high, then the darker moments need to be executed just as skilfully to counter this and really pack a punch. Some finer details could also use a bit more attention, such as Bennett distinguishing more between himself and the multi-role characters he embodies; and allowing more time between opposing thoughts, so that they don’t run over each other. This was, however, presented as a work in progress and these are all the kind of things which work themselves out as a production develops.
At the heart of Boy Out The City is the message of accepting yourself, as Bennett finally learned to do when he finally ‘gave in’. This is an appropriate theme for a production at Rally Fest and when Bennett tells the audience to make friends with their own frayed edges, in the final moments of the show, it is a genuine and touching moment.
Bennett has created a truly enjoyable and entertaining piece of theatre packed with both laughs and heart. It is likely that, as the production really settles into itself, this will be the kind of moving piece which sticks with you for a long time after viewing.
Boy Out Of The City played at The Turbine Theatre on 9th June. For more information, see The Turbine Theatre’s website.