Review: Boy Out Of City

Review: Boy Out Of City

Covid and the enforced lockdowns mean different things to different people. To actor Declan Bennett, author of a powerful one man show Boy out of City which captivated Edinburgh last year, it meant a descent into a kind of personal hell. Not initially, as Barnett and his actor boyfriend decamp from the city to idyllic Oxfordshire. Watlington has a bakery, a pub with early hours and seems soothing. But when his partner gets a job in Atlanta and disappears for six months, solitude imposes a kind of second lockdown on Declan. The serious consequences form the show as our hero hits the bottle and revisits his past.

This is powerful theatre, based on journals that Bennett kept at the time, and the way he revisits his past in various cities via a deteriorating present is beautifully written. He talks for example about autumn arriving like old brown corduroy.

As Bennett notes at the start, with Guinness and obligatory mask, soon taken off, the piece isn’t about Covid but “gay shame and loneliness”. He returns to growing up  queer in an Irish Catholic household and a neat, moving frame is the Matthew, Mark, Luke and John prayer his Nan taught him to say at night. Not the most relaxing mantra with the apostles sitting round looking for trouble. There is humour threaded throughout the harrowing personal material with our hero’s pride at being slapped by his experimental girlfriend touching and droll.  

But it is tough seeing the actor disowned by schoolfriends, later visited by cancer at the age of 23, wondering how to appease his demons. The howls of angst are very real and Bennett’s acting is a master class in how to convey confessional subject matter. We rejoice at his return to gay pride, and a jaunty cap with hi energy music and moves, in Soho, London W1. City life remained a constant reassurance until it went and maybe more on his New York experiences would have worked well. The music and light effects chart Declan’s descent into a kind of breakdown, signalled by a frenzied light show. He recognizes his alter ego who has whipped up self-doubt and maybe hatred, then exhausted, lets go. And in a prime piece of theatre, this leads to peace and joy. There is a mini homily at the end, well delivered by the actor who invests this most personal material with emotion and pathos and even where appropriate, a touch of pezazz. Nancy Sullivan directs with panache. Sometimes you don’t want to be alone, pace Greta Garbo.

Jane Hardy

Boy Out of City continues until Sunday, April 21, at the Lyric Theatre (028 9038 1081)

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.