Unapologetically uncomplicated and delightfully gay (in both senses of the word), Bill Solly and Donald Ward’s 1930s-set musical Boy Meets Boy is being given a long overdue London outing at the tiny Jermyn Street Theatre, almost 40 years after its off-Broadway premiere.
A charming and light-hearted romantic comedy that calls to mind the Golden Age of Hollywood musicals, it may not be particularly ground-breaking (or even original), but the energetic and likeable cast – not to mention the catchy tunes – make for an entertaining and highly enjoyable experience.
As the central couple, Stephen Ashfield’s dashing reporter Casey O’Brien and Craig Fletcher’s aristocratic toff Guy Rose mesh well, the former roguishly charismatic while the latter is convincingly transformed from a blonde, bumbling and bespectacled Harry Potter-alike to a smooth, suave sophisticate, while retaining his pleasing gaucheness: this being the kind of old-fashioned plot where an identity can be masked by simply removing one’s glasses, and love cures all ills, (including, presumably, poor eyesight, since the specs never make a reappearance).
As Guy’s jilted fiancé Clarence, Ben Kavanagh is a malicious delight, stealing every scene he’s in with petulant precision, while Johnjo Flynn is suitably stiff-upper lipped as Casey’s fellow roué about town. The leads are rounded out by Anna Nicholas, who appears to be channelling Maggie Smith, magnificently disdainful as Guy’s mother but sympathetically louche as his Parisian-based aunt who moved to France and ‘went native’.
Positioning the story not in the actual 30s – when Boy meeting Boy would likely result in them both being arrested – but in a reimagined era where all sexualities are equally unremarkable (it’s never referred to that any of the leads are gay) may make this an out-an-out fantasy but it works well in the context, creating a world as glossy and unrealistic as a Rogers and Astaire movie. This is a universe where a male reporter having a torrid affair with a matador is a titillating scandal, not a career-ending disgrace, and where tabloid reporters froth greedily for details of ‘the other groom’ in a society wedding. Allowing us to enjoy this romance unencumbered by historical or political context paradoxically makes the piece feel both timeless and modern, though it may make you mourn for the classic musicals we could have had if the 30s had indeed been so enlightened.
In a series of well-choreographed musical numbers, the ensemble cast shine, energetically performing an array of often very funny songs and, a slight lull in the second half aside, director Gene David Kirk never allows the pace to flag. Alice Walkling’s witty and well-used set makes the most of Jermyn Street’s compact space; but as pleasingly intimate as this setting is, I couldn’t help feeling Boy Meets Boy deserves a much bigger audience.