Belt Up Theatre's 'The Boy James'

Adelaide College of the Arts. 28 Feb 2012

This is one of the most remarkable productions I have seen for a long time.  It is easy to identify what I enjoyed about it, and how I felt, but it is very difficult to precisely define what it was about.  Was it a story about lost innocence, or growing up, or about being corrupted?  Was it about a young unsettled mind that did not want to grow up?  Or was it about growing up by forcing oneself to put childish things aside?  Maybe it is about all of those things, but one thing is for certain, this production by Belt Up Theatre is provoking.

The audience is greeted at the door of the theatre by ‘the boy’, played brilliantly well by Jethro Compton, and invited into what is his own personal domain.  The performance space is in the form of a living room.  It is draped on the ceiling and on all four walls and is lit by several harsh lights.  There are sofas and easy chairs around all walls for the audience to sit on, and in the middle is a table and chair that form the focus of the set.  For all intents and purposes we are in the boy’s personal space, and he disarmingly invites us to play some simple games with him, which we do with little resistance.

The scene is set, the boy has won us over, and he then proceeds to immerse us in his boyish world.  Compton’s skill is palpable.  Surely he MUST be only six or seven or eight?!  Eventually the boy is joined by a young man, who turns out to be his older self, played by Dominic Allen.  The dialogue is then between the boy and himself, and this presents the first challenge in the text for the audience.  A young girl, delicately played by Serena Manteghi, then appears, almost from nowhere, and another text challenge is identified.  Who is real? There is a struggle which leads to older James being knocked out, and boy James is distraught thinking that he has been killed.  But the girl assures him that he is not.  Following is a series of scenes where young James is gradually corrupted – drink, sex (almost rape), bad language – and the girl eventually leaves as older James recovers, and takes his leave.  But young James does not want him to go and is inconsolable.

This all sounds confusing, and it is, but it is compelling theatre, and strangely enjoyable.  Directed by Dominic Allen, the cast use the playing space superbly, and handle the absence of a fourth wall with ease.  Manteghi shifts between wide-eyed innocence and temptress, and Allen has a mystery about him that leaves you wondering until the end. Compton....well, he is just exquisite.

This production is highly recommended – an intriguing Fringe experience that you are unlikely to find anywhere else – but it will leave you wondering long after you have left the theatre.

Kym Clayton

When: 1 to 18 Mar
Where: Adelaide College of the Arts - Tiny Lounge
Bookings: www.adelaidefringe.com.au