Friday, 6 September 2013

Theatre review: A Boy and His Soul

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: A Boy and His Soul has its press night on Monday.

Kicking off Indhu Rubasingham's second year in charge of the Tricycle (and the first with the promised reserved seating) is a US import, Colman Domingo performing his own monologue, A Boy and His Soul. Clearing out his parents' old West Philadelphia house before they sell it, JJ (Domingo) finds their old vinyl collection of 1970s soul music, and is transported back to his childhood. He paints a picture of his family soundtracked by Diana Ross, Teddy Pendergrass and Earth, Wind And Fire, and revisits the adult messages both in the music and the life around him, that seemed innocent to his child's eyes. Following himself to university and beyond, the music continues to provide a way for his family to interpret the world, and ends up defining the way they react to him coming out as gay. Ultimately as his mother and stepfather get old and ill, the soul records become what connects JJ to his memories of them.

Although it's already run in New York, this was still a preview performance for the Tricycle run, as proved by a couple of technical glitches Domingo cheerfully shrugged off; other that that it feels pretty confident. Perhaps a bit too confident, as I found it took a while to grow on me. I think there may be an element of an eagerness to please that had the opposite effect on me: Domingo is an incredibly energetic performer whose energy never lets up, but I kind of wish director Titas Halder had got him to hold back a bit in the earlier stages of the performance, and build up more gradually. The fact that he tries to forge a rapport with the audience by name-checking several 1970s American sitcoms I'd never seen was another alienating factor, and made me wonder how long it would take for his scene-setting to coalesce into a narrative.

It takes a while, but about halfway through the show it does happen. Domingo also starts to pace his performance better, leaving breathing room for his entertaining impressions of his starry-eyed mother, pragmatic stepfather, warring siblings, and his own nervously camp younger self. At its best, A Boy and His Soul is hilarious and touching, it just takes a while to get there. And the soundtrack is one any show would envy.

A Boy and His Soul by Colman Domingo is booking until the 21st of September at the Tricycle Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes straight through.

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