Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sometimes you close your eyes/And see the place you used to live (A Year in Theatre: Show #3)

“Could someone explain what “It”, which is the same as “Tag”, is?” The boy James asks, all striped pyjamas and restless limbs.

BillytheKid stands up.

“Tell everyone [BillyTheKid]”

(I was going to write there that it strikes me at this point that BillyTheKid has a story appropriate name. But obviously BillyTheKid is not that name. So it’s not appropriate at all. But trust me – BillyTheKid’s actual moniker fits in brilliantly with this refracted Peter Pan world)

“It, or Tag, or Tig is a game where someone is nominated ‘It’, they then have to chase people trying to make physical contact, with the person they touch becoming ‘It’ in turn. This person then has to harass everyone else”.

Everyone clustered in Belt Up’s dark Edwardian study in the Southwark Playhouse vaults laughs.

“And now you have to pick someone to be It” The boy James says mischievously.

“The man looking comfortable in the tie”.

I look across the room. BillyTheKid has picked well. Comfortable Tie looks around for the comfortable man in the tie.

“Yes – you”. BillyTheKid emphasises.

“And now you’ve got to tag someone” The boy James says gleefully.

Comfortable Tie prods the woman next to him, who in turn prods the woman next to her.

“Okay, now you’re not allowed to tag the person sitting next to you”.

The boy James might have a point.

There’s more movement, more climbing over cushions and chairs and the collected paraphernalia of a Belt Up show.

And then the rules change – and suddenly everyone in the room is climbing over cushions trying not to be caught. Obviously a game such as this doesn’t exactly play to my strengths (but when your strengths involve sitting down and writing mildly amusing blog material there are very few physical games that play to them) and I’m caught within five seconds.

Which is how I end up standing in a star shape with my legs apart in the midst of Southwark Playhouse.

For the only way you can be freed is by someone crawling between your legs.

Suddenly I’m very glad I’m wearing very thick tights.

Once I've been freed and then tagged again and then freed again (look: I did say I was rubbish at this) the boy James announces that James is coming into the room and we must hide. I end up with a sofa cushion over my face as we all revert to the child-like 'I can't see you so you can't see me' rule of combat.

Maybe this is what captivates me most about The Boy James, as I sit peeking over my cushion. By removing our inhibitions and engaging our own lost selves Belt Up transports us back to the place before we walked away from our innocence. To some degree maybe that sums up what Belt Up always do.

It is never quite this funny or carefree for us again. The Boy James becomes a soundtrack to the melancholy of everything we lose as we grow up. James is fighting a battle we know he will lose - time itself proves to be as much a physical force as does the violent sexualisation that awaits him. The play is a little too ethereal to be entirely satisfying, a little too much is left half-whispered and half developed. There's been more than one suggestion of misogny (which writer Alexander Wright has been open enough to tackle) and it's true that as the play stands the Girl who invades the study is the most under-developed of the trio (Wright notes that he doesn't find Peter Pan misogynistic - neither do I but I do find it sexist, an important difference which is maybe where some of the problems of the Girl lie). But The Boy James burrowed its way into my head, a half-remembered poem that I felt more than I understood.

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