Reviews London TheatreOWE & Fringe Published 5 July 2016

Review: Boys Will Be Boys at Bush Hall

Bush Hall ⋄ 29th June - 30th July 2016

‘Ooh, we love damaged women, don’t we?’: Brendan Macdonald reviews Melissa Bubnic’s portrayal of City culture.

Brendan Macdonald
Boys Will Be Boys at Bush Hall. Photo: Helen Murray.

Boys Will Be Boys at Bush Hall. Photo: Helen Murray.

Boys will be boys. What a horrible sentence. It speaks to a perilous logic, a bizarre false tautology, that underpins and reaffirms perpetual acts of sexism and violence towards women. Worse still, it’s the sort of phrase said with an insidious shrug, as if the proclamation itself is so self-evident that it’s a waste of breath to repeat it. It’s sounds inconsequential, and is consequently dangerous.

Melissa Bubnic is aware of that danger, and the title of her all-female production sets the scene. The phrase defines the rules of the game and the world in which Astrid Wentworth (Kirsty Bushell) lives. A highly successful City broker, Astrid navigates her existence in a setting where there is no place for her. She struggles to remain a success while she teaches her protege, Priya Sengupta (Ellora Torchia), the true nature of the business. Meanwhile, she tries to establish a real relationship with her lover Isabelle, an escort. In this world, the phrase ‘boys will be boys’ is as good as any establishing shot.

Produced by the Bush Theatre and Headlong, it’s part-cabaret, with tables and chairs surrounding a grand piano in the stalls, while the stage consists of three toilet stalls. Amidst the narrative sequences, Bushell sporadically speaks to the audience and sings old charts, such as Peggy Lee’s Love Being Here with You, or Etta James’s I’d Rather Go Blind.

These two worlds — Astrid the City broker and Astrid/Bushell the cabaret performer — never quite marry. While pianist Jennifer Whyte offers effortless accompaniment and Bushell’s vocals are cleverly restrained, the occasional song feels like a respite from the narrative. Not enough directorial effort is made in fusing these worlds together.

The story itself is conventional. The ensemble are strong and provide a wealthy (in number and in value) backdrop of characters. These characters spout sentences more awful than ‘boys will be boys’. And while I’d like to say that the sad but predictable narrative is a bit formulaic, and that perhaps it fails to fully represent the myriad experiences of women in the City, I remind myself that its predictability, its formula, is precisely the issue. We may feel we don’t need a full-length play depicting the misogyny of City culture, but then again, it still happens. Yes, Bubnic’s piece could be more inventive, but invention is often an activity of leisure, and this play has work to do.

The most productive work comes frustratingly at the very end. After Astrid suffers her downfall, she confronts the audience: ‘Ooh, we love damaged women, don’t we?’ The damaged woman, as mentioned previously by this publication, is a prominent character in our own storytelling. Here too, according to narrative conventions, Astrid must navigate her existence according to a set of rules. If she does not have some damaged history, what then is she? In this moment Boys Will Be Boys not only gestures to the problems with its titular phrase, but also to the potential pitfalls we face when portraying women. It speaks to our responsibility as theatre-makers to ensure we do not create another dangerous and false logic.

Boys Will Be Boys is on until 30th July 2016. Click here for more information.

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Brendan Macdonald is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: Boys Will Be Boys at Bush Hall Show Info


Directed by Amy Hodge

Written by Melissa Bubnic

Cast includes Chipo Chung, Emily Barber, Helen Schlesinger, Ellora Torchia, Kirsty Bushell

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