Boy's Life
It’s been a quarter of a century since Howard Korder’s Boys’ Life was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize back in 1988, and its portrayal of masculinity in the post-feminist era was heralded as a timely examination of sexual politics. Twenty-five years later, One Fell Swoop and 11:11 Productions have revived the piece at the King’s Head Theatre, proving to a new generation of theatregoers just how much — and how little — has changed.

Boys’ Life follows the lives of three best friends from college, now in their late 20s and still desperately trying to navigate the dos and don’ts of life as young adult men. Phil (Luke Trebilcock), a maudlin burnout, is kind-hearted yet misguided in his emotional attempts to find love and fulfilment, and Don (Matthew Crowley), agreeable to a fault, never quite seems to say or do the right thing. Jack (Max Warrick), now married and with a young son, is the most brutishly hyper-masculine of the three friends, always pushing for one more beer and discussion of tits. Throughout the play the three old friends juggle their friendships and romantic relationships with varying levels of success, making for a delightful 80 minutes of young adult ups and downs.

In Korder’s honest tale of dynamic friendships and sexual adventures (and misadventures), the representation of a rocky and disillusioned young adulthood still rings true under the direction of Sebastien Blanc. Though the music, clothing and design (by Kellie Jane Walters) paint an accurate picture of the late 80s, the joy in this production stems from the universality of the play’s themes and the fully believable honesty of its characters.  It appears the male experience has long been a tumultuous one — torn between pressures to be “the sensitive type” or “the jerk,” Phil, Don, and Jack represent different ends of the spectrum, though their positions are hardly stagnant. Their female counterparts are equally layered, and the male/female dynamics that emerge through their various encounters are terrific comic evidence of the complicated and completely unglamorous nature of romance. All of the five featured women deliver strong performances, though Anna Brooks-Beckman is a particular powerhouse as the abrasive Lisa, and Charlotte Gascoyne is side-splittingly funny and simultaneously tragic as a regrettable one-night stand with questionable mental stability.

The play is more than a comedic “battle of the sexes” as many synopses claim — it is also a sensitive and insightful study of the complexity of male friendships, which sets it apart from many seemingly familiar and often forgettable narratives. As Jack, Warrick highlights a deep need for companionship and support from Don and Phil, though his loyal subjection to the insensitive male stereotype inhibits his ability to be or keep a true friend. Warrick, Trebilcock and Crowley intricately reveal the true fragility of the male psyche, making it possible for the audience to laugh at them and sympathise with them at the same time. The American accents often falter, but with some suspension of disbelief this inconsistency becomes easy to ignore.

The production manages to stay true to the play’s original time period without losing its modern day relevance, and in doing so is a thoroughly enjoyable watch. Theatregoers of all ages can take comfort in the fact that things haven’t got easier. While many shows thrive on spectacle and boundary-pushing subject matter, Boys’ Life is a wonderful reminder that a subtler and well-written story of believably flawed individuals can be equally or even more compelling — after all, hardly any fictional fantasy can compete with the everyday complexities of real life.

Boys’ Life is playing at the King’s Head Theatre until 23 June. For more information and tickets, see the Kings Head Theatre website.