There is something very cinematographic about this show. It feels like you are witnessing the shooting of an American blockbuster series. The set, by Max Dorey, has well thought out detail and is very realistic and exciting. When you walk inside the Southwark Playhouse’s intimate black box, you suddenly start stepping on a grassy and sandy floor, and face a big caravan that predicts a funny plot.
Steven Dietz wrote an extremely clever text and, especially if you read John Haidar’s director’s notes in the programme, you understand how accurate, important and relevant to current society this text is. It is a beautiful choice. I am not sure, though, that the themes are clear to everyone. If you haven’t been following the political situation in the USA and are not familiar with the Vietnam War and the relations between these two countries, it is likely that you miss some of the signs…
The story is quite simple but hides in it triggers to very deep themes. Ben is the last of the boys living in a campsite. His old friend Jeeter comes to visit him, as usual, and announces that for 10 days he has been dating the love of his life. This girl is Sal, and when she meets Ben they understand that something really weird connects them. Meanwhile Ben keeps receiving a scary visitor – a soldier who believes Ben is a military secretary working for the government who forces him to practise a political speech.
All of this sounds thrilling; however, there is a big problem with the rhythm of the play. The tempos are extended too much, with some moments taking ages to happen and the staging so settled that the actors – despite being very good – seem to be more mechanical creatures than human beings.
The use of the fourth wall is constant and it creates distance between the performance and the audience. As much as you want to connect with this story and these characters, you can’t help feeling that you are not part of it. Again, I believe this has a lot to do with the cinematographic aspect of this work.
The acting, though it must serve the slow-paced staging, is very good and the American accent is impressive. Special mention must go to Todd Boyce, playing Jeeter, who manages to travel a demanding journey from a funny, nonchalant man to an aggressive and brutally honest one. His character’s connection with the Rolling Stones is as funny as it is moving.
This is a production with the best of intentions, with a very good concept and great actors; but it results in a boring and distant piece of theatre, with just some funny moments.
Last Of The Boys is playing at the Southwark Playhouse until 4 June. For more information and tickets, see the Southwark Playhouse website. Photo: Ben Broomfield