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  • Chris O'Rourke


Emmanuel Okoye and Ultan Pringle in Boyfriends. Image by Owen Clarke


Opposites attract. Or do they? In Ultan Pringle’s brilliant Boyfriends the question is up for debate as an anonymous gay couple negotiate the early stages of a relationship. In one corner, wearing blue trunks, stands a black, shredded Adonis who hates emotional Americans, has no love of literature, and isn’t into dogs watching him have sex. In the opposite corner stands a pasty, dog owning, literary barista sporting a less than chiselled body, a dead brother, and questionable taste in trunks. A match made in heaven it would seem. So why are they fighting all the time? About meeting friends, counting calories, or parental remarks? Could it be their endless conversations are designed to deflect from really talking? About the wounds and traumas they share that render them afraid to love? Could it be their defences are killing them and may well kill their relationship? Could they be any less opposite? But so what? What is a boyfriend anyway? What the fuck is romance anyway? In Boyfriends, they might well be the answer to everything.

Ultan Pringle and Emmanuel Okoye in Boyfriends. Image by Owen Clarke

Like much contemporary new writing Boyfriends feels as if written for a Netflix series. Short, snappy scenes, cleverly awash in pop culture references, bleed into each other to make a cinematic styled whole. Yet under Joy Nesbitt’s shrewdly paced direction, it all coheres wonderfully onstage. Nesbitt enjoying two for two following her scripts success in Landmark Theatre’s Theatre for One at Cork Midsummer Festival. Showing acute directorial acumen, Nesbitt understands the strength of Pringle’s script lies not in what's said, smart, funny and incisive as that is, but in what's being left unsaid. What cannot be said, especially when characters don’t know what they really want to say. Pringle knowing it’s better to illustrate than simply argue as their relationship journeys towards costly self-articulation. Proving, as the old folks say, that if you want to know me come and live with me. Because living together chips away at every chink in your armour till there’s nowhere left to hide. Till you have to step out from behind the barricade and into the light. Then what will you do, when you both emerge naked and broken?

Emmanuel Okoye and Ultan Pringle in Boyfriends. Image by Owen Clarke

If Owen Clarke’s lighting design suffers a few awkwardly blocked moments, it might well be because the demands of lighting Boyfriends is comparable to lighting a Taylor Swift concert. Indeed, if Tay Tay is looking for someone who can spin a million lit plates all at once she need look no further than Clarke. Or if looking to upgrade her set, she need only call Choy-Ping Ní Chléirigh-Ng, whose set design is a stroke of genius. The wall-come-bedroom floor as simple and brilliant as it is efficient and effective. Tony Bailey's equally effective costumes facilitating another Guinness Book of Records attempt for costume changes. Mostly though, it’s its three strong cast who utterly seduce. Beginning with an arthritic dog, Marshmallow, who upstages everyone. Alongside Pringle’s professional barista refusing to own his temperamental need for misery so he can avoid the real vulnerability of catharsis. Like Emmanuel Okoye, whose hardened exterior resists the question if it could ever be loved? Both actors fizzing with genuine chemistry, their characters revealing more the harder they try to hide. A couple who can ask what was your best blow job at ten o’clock in the morning to avoid asking the really intimate questions. The texts of their lives informed by silenced, subtextual depths as their prologue becomes an epilogue. Or is that the other way around? Back to those opposites again.

Emmanuel Okoye and Ultan Pringle in Boyfriends. Image by Owen Clarke

Soaked in smart, pop culture references, astute relationship insights, and endless humorous quips, Boyfriends is one of the best, if not the best, new plays of 2024. Like Pretty Woman for the 21st century, only prettier, funnier, and way sexier, Boyfriends has all the makings of a modern day, rom-com classic. A great gay love story, Boyfriends is a great love story whatever your persuasion. Joyously, heart-achingly, gorgeously enjoyable, Boyfriends deserves to run and run. But get your tickets fast. Once word gets out they’re going to be scorching hot! And Ultan Pringle? Remember the name. You’re going to be hearing more of it.

Boyfriends by Ultan Pringle, presented by LemonSoap Productions, runs at The Project Arts Centre until July 6, transferring to An Grianan Theatre, Donegal, July 11 - 13.

For more information visit The Project Arts Centre or An Grianan Theatre


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