Declan Bennett’s autobiographical show, fresh from the Edinburgh Fringe, finished its short run in the West End today, where it has been playing in rep with Bloody Elle.
As Bennett is an accomplished musical theatre/pop singer, you might expect this to contain some of those elements, but apart from a hint of Christmas, this is strictly a play with words.
Brooding in the country, washing down alcohol, Declan approaches his 40th birthday in lockdown, missing his boyfriend, and trapped in repetitive tasks.
As a gay Irish Catholic, this is a show about “gay shame” and yes, the queerness is all present from the youthful fantasy of the Milk Tray man through to a powerful need to join the school choir.
At just an hour, Boy Out The City mentions a lot, but it can’t do everything justice. While sections on toxic adults and cancer at 23 are effective, mentions of New York living hardly register.
Technically, the show looks great, with a set by Reuben Speed of scaffolding and a sense of living space, kitchen and front door, and lots of colourful lighting from Alex Lewer.
As Declan recalls moments in his early life alongside a recent trip to Hobbycraft, spotlights shift and moments hit home. Max Pappenheim’s sound design also gives a flavour of where we are and when.
Co-creator and director Nancy Sullivan utilises the stage well and balances the comic and the tragic very well. A moment where Declan finally breaks out of wine-soaked stupor and loneliness could have misfired but we feel invested in the character’s journey.
Boy Out The City may benefit from more of a contrast with that city (Cruise, for example, nailed the Soho vibe) against a country cottage with a garden, and why the latter first feels freeing, then oppressive.
This play has energy and vibrancy, but perhaps sells its story a little short given the time constraints. I wanted a little more than was given in this measured performance: it doesn’t have to be misery memoir, but a bit more development wouldn’t go amiss to give the plot strands more room o breathe.
Boy Out The City has finished its current run, but there are plans for further shows. For more on Declan Bennett, follow his Instagram.