Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Theatre review: Boy Meets Boy

I did have tonight down as a rare theatre-free evening, but Ian recommended Boy Meets Boy at Jermyn Street Theatre as a rather mental must-see, and I'm not one for resisting theatrical temptation so off I popped. The musical, with songs by Bill Solly and book by Solly and Donald Ward, was a 1975 off-Broadway hit, but written in the style of a 1930s golden age show with Americans in Europe, mismatched but made-for-each-other couples, a bunch of misunderstandings and a lead who thinks his love interest is two different people. The big conceit of the show though is that this is an alternate 1930s, where homosexuality is not just legal with complete equal marriage rights (giving the revival a bit of topicality as well) but considered so run-of-the-mill as to be completely unworthy of mention.

So the cad who needs to mend his ways at the start is Casey O'Brien (Stephen Ashfield,) an American journalist in London with a reputation for breaking men's hearts across the continent, but never getting emotionally attached himself. He can't stand fellow American Clarence Cutler (Ben Kavanagh,) a millionaire who has decided he quite fancies a title so is marrying the mousy, elusive aristocrat Guy Rose (Craig Fletcher.) But when he accidentally gets drawn into one of Casey's parties, Guy decides he'd quite like a taste of a wilder life, and jilts Clarence at the altar.

Gene David Kirk's final show as Artistic Director at Jermyn Street, Boy Meets Boy is a lot of silly fun and at times, indeed, batshit mental. I'm thinking in particular of things like the song "It's a Boy's Life," in which Casey and Guy bond over their shared over-enthusiasm for their time in the boy scouts; or of a line in the second act opener "Paris," where a list of the things that make the French capital great includes "petits pois;" or a running gag involving a knock on the door and tap-dancing. But it also works on a more straightforward level as a sweet old-fashioned musical, and there's something about having a gay romance go completely unremarked on by the story that says just as much as a more overtly political play would. The Parisian club where Guy flees in the second act to his aunt Josephine (Anna Nicholas) alternates dances by the chorus's girls with those by the boys, and in a reversal of a more recent romantic comedy meme, Casey is given a straight best friend (Johnjo Flynn.)

The dancing, choreographed by Lee Proud, is good if inevitably cramped; the singing isn't bad, although quite a few of the cast seemed to have trouble with some bigger notes. The story sees the shallow Casey fall for Guy's good looks while simultaneously falling in love with the personality of the geeky disheveled man who turns up at his hotel room one morning, not realising they're both the same person. So Guy is required to do the old Clark Kent trick of removing his glasses and having nobody recognise him, and actually Fletcher is remarkably good at transforming himself with just a change of attitude - it's not quite Bertie Carvel levels of regeneration but it's pretty impressive. Kavanagh is rather creepy as the self-obsessed ex who's trying to break Casey and Guy up (why Guy would have agreed to marry him in the first place is another one to chalk up to Musical Theatre Logic.) Boy Meets Boy is charming, funny, a bit cheekily sexy (thanks to a subplot about male strippers) and a bit weird, and I'd also recommend it.

Boy Meets Boy by Bill Solly and Donald Ward is booking until the 20th of December at Jermyn Street Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes including interval.

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