"Powerful, funny, moving, vital theatre"
by Ed Barrett for remotegoat on 06/09/19

By turns powerful, funny, and moving, Luke Barnes’ new play Lost Boys is a timely – and at times an appropriately uncomfortable – reminder of the pressures young men currently face as they struggle to find a voice and an identity. Here, the young men in question are growing up in a Northern town that’s as anonymous as it is familiar; but the messages are universal, and leave us in no doubt that some of the versions of masculinity society presents them with as role models are indeed toxic.

Zoe Lafferty’s direction keeps things lively, energetic and absorbing, with plenty of variety, allowing everyone in the cast their chance to shine. Indeed, when those who’ve previously had a minor stage presence break into song (for example), it becomes clear that their relative anonymity up to that point was a case of the production deliberately ‘keeping its powder dry’ so as to maximise their impact later on.

Jasmine Swan and Sarah Mercade make great use of relatively simple materials to give us a set that’s much more versatile than you might expect, whilst Helena Bonner and Blue Bradfield bring a similar flair to the costumes.

Dom Coyote’s compositions and sound design help to give the production real depth, with the on-stage musicians sounding great, and Jenna Sian O’Hara’s choreography is crisp and engaging – evidently a talent to match her great acting.

Whilst there were many in the thirteen-strong cast who impressed hugely on the night, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if others grow more into their roles as the run progresses, and they all had moments that – at the very least – hinted that they might have great futures in theatre.

Tom Isted deserves a special mention for nailing what must be a hugely challenging role as an isolated figure who fantasises about unleashing his anger on those who taunt him. As the narrator, Louis Carrington does a great job of embodying the playwright’s voice, without becoming a mere cypher. To describe Floriana Dezou as a star in the making might be slightly misleading as, on this evidence, she’s not far off being there already. Kwame Owusu likewise makes the stage own in revealing the inner insecurities that lead him to sabotage his relationship with the girlfriend he so clearly cares about. Faye Donnellan also does well in bringing depth and character to flashes of brash humour that in a lesser production might simply have been no more than moments of light relief.

Moments such as Dave (Eoin McKenna) recognising with bewilderment his own darker side, or Alexandre King’s withering look when asked to provide a drum-roll, will live long in the memory, as will characters such the quirky, compelling monarch (Neve Kelman) in the play-within-a-play.

This is a big, bold, and often beautiful piece of theatre; whatever demands its scale and scope must have made on Project Coordinator Hayley Greggs she has clearly taken them in her stride. If I say that at times the quality of this production was up there with that of the work of Liverpool’s own powerhouse young-people’s theatre company, 20 Stories High, please don’t mistake this for feint praise, as it’s nothing of the sort: this means Lost Boys often breaks the bounds of simply being great youth theatre, and become great theatre, period.

That’s not to say the play is flawless. A bit of light pruning might help the metadrama (but then I said the same about Alan Bennett’s The Habit of Art, so what do I know?), and I thought the emotional impact of the piece was at its most powerful in some of the simpler, more direct moments, when its honesty and sincerity really shone through. I also felt the work’s importance was most obvious when this was demonstrated, rather than when we were literally being told ‘this is important’.

But nobody with an up-to-date knowledge of theatre needs to be told just how talented playwright Luke Barnes is; what may not be so apparent is how instrumental he has been in making sure this National Youth Theatre venture has its roots planted firmly in the North West.

I hope it reaches the audiences it’s aimed at both in its run at the Unity Theatre, and with its subsequent community tour. It deserves to, and it may just make a real difference.

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