Boys Become Oulfellas
Whatever the merits of Michael Harnett‘s novel The Boys, his clunky adaptation for the stage often makes for hard going. A laboured series of sequential sketches about four teenage boys growing up in Drumcondra in the late 1960s, “The Boys” self-proclaimed labour of lust delivers teenage sexual angst at the level of a naughty postcard. While “The Boys” might engage those raised to be petrified of passion and the priest under Roman Catholic rule, for everyone else “The Boys” has a lot less to offer. Aside from four invested and spirited performances from four actors in search of an author. And sometimes a director.
In Harnett’s “The Boys” the schemer Hackett, the uptight Brennan, the intellectual Fay, and the troubled telegram boy, Scout, spend the summer months indulging in harmless mischief. Sneaking into football matches, ogling the woman who likes to undress at her window every night, organising a party to meet girls, their lives becomes one predictable episode of good clean fun. Well, good and clean anyway. Their sexual exploits being so innocent and tame they wouldn’t warrant a sketch on The Benny Hill Show. Shifting effortless between Halls Pictorial Weekly styled caricatures, with Dillon displaying some musical talent along the way, momentary sketches dazzle by virtue of the actors performing them. What real fun there is comes courtesy of Killian Coyle’s, Aron Hegarty’s, Ethan Dillon’s, and Laurence Falconer’s invested performances, each playing a range of characters. Yet by the time some heavy handed, if much needed pathos is injected near the end, it all gets diluted in a moralising, boys-become-oulfellas diatribe about how things change, and about not wasting your youth now you have your Inter-cert.
While there’s a lot of humour trying to work some magic in “The Boys,” you might find yourself smiling more often than laughing. Partially because side characters who sparkle in a sketch can’t sustain the same level of engagement for a near two hour show. Not helped by Harnett’s lingering too long with the one joke format, such as peeping toms, and trying to milk it for everything its worth. It’s not till “The Boys” strives to find a storyline that things begin to settle and flow, with a disjointed rhythm establishing itself. Wonderfully realised during the night at the den of one thousand delights and its immediate aftermath, which left you wishing for more in this vein. Equally, Killian Coyle’s pained and reflective ending, which elevated the character into something deeply engaging, also hinted at what was too often missing.
If, compositionally, director Tracy Ryan showed some serious skills in making good use of the space, that didn’t stop “The Boys” from looking, and feeling, all over the place at times. Looking ragged, unfocused, and chaotic, and not in a good way, not helped by questionable lighting choices by Shane Gill, sequences often lacked rigour and exactness with energy flying every which way. Indeed, loud and fast, like a race car, seemed to be Ryan’s default position, having about the same level of subtlety on impact. Ryan needed to provide her stellar cast with something more to push against, especially given Harnett’s lightweight script, to help it all stop looking so nervous and uneasy.
“The Boys,” for all its self-professed sex and lust, feels like a reminiscence told by parents who behaved themselves and did well at school. Indeed, for those who were there at the time, Harnett’s trip of innocence down memory lane can feel like a sanitised version of Goodbye To The Hill. Outside its cast’s stellar work, there’s little here to appeal to a wider audience, with Harnett’s good boys script having very little real meat on the bone. Still, those from the generation evoked might find things to enjoy here. All of which makes “The Boys” a two star production redeemed by some four star performances.
“The Boys” by Michael Harnett, presented by Reality: Check Productions, runs at The Viking Theatre until October 13.
For more information, visit The Viking Theatre