Boy With Beer, King’s Head Theatre, review: ‘unflinchingly honest portrait of black gay relationships’
PUBLISHED: 14:10 22 November 2016
Paul Boakye’s Boy With Beer is confirmed as a groundbreaking play in director Harry Mackrill’s charged production
Remounted on its 25th anniversary, Paul Boakye’s Boy With Beer – an unflinchingly honest portrait of black gay relationships – is confirmed as a groundbreaking play in director Harry Mackrill’s charged production.
Successful photographer Karl (Chin Nyenwe) has made a good life for himself since leaving Ghana but yearns to find his “African Prince”, – a void he fills alone at night through poetic incantations to his homeland, set to moody lighting in designer Rachel Stone’s spot-on nineties design.
So when he picks up emotionally confused homeboy Donovan the signs that true love are on the cards are zero. What follows is a standard-enough study in a burgeoning friendship between seeming opposites who share a deep sense of loneliness.
But it’s the sharp banter and Boakye’s forensic insights into the tentative stages in a new relationship – be they straight or gay – that mark this play out.
From the frantic desire for sex and pragmatic disappointments in the bedroom to rapidly entrenched resentments over not respecting boundaries (Donovan with Karl’s possessions; Karl with Donovan’s other life, shielding a pregnant girlfriend with AIDS), the issues and self-deceptions feel raw and very real.
There’s plenty of convincing threat in the set-up as Donovan – a ticking time bomb of closeted sexuality – bombards measured, dope-smoking Karl with chitchat that’s anything but innocuous.
The time-line is deliberately ambiguous, taking us through a year, maybe more, of their lives. When Karl’s patience snaps, the strains in a thinly drawn sadism scene are, in part, papered over by the impressive tension sustained by the actors.
It’s the shift to tenderness and optimism that’s not entirely convincing in the writing or in this production. Littered with references to the 90s, this production serves as a pre-Tinder, pre-Grindr reminder that there’s no substitute for heartfelt conversation.
Rating: 4/5 stars
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