Boys at the Barbican


Director: Kane Husbands

BOYS is a show like no other. An ethnically diverse ensemble of 10 bursts on stage with irrepressible energy and passion to explore masculinity in all its guises. The boys move just as lads on the street move – they are athletic, powerful and strong. They work as a group but then cliques form and someone gets excluded. Moods change quickly: arguments can suddenly turn violent. There’s a frisson of fear when a fight goes too far, the music (Roly Botha) and lighting (Saul Valiunas) suggesting the urgent sounds and lights of an ambulance against the heartless urban night.

Kane Husbands, founder and director of the PappyShow, creates shows that are always new, always evolving. His method is truly collaborative, using intense workshops in which an ensemble play and improvise to create a fresh show. The performers never hide behind a fictional mask: each retains his individuality, introducing himself by name, revealing a telling detail of his own story. The ensemble is invited to play games. There’s Statements, where they must step forward individually to share something about themselves. Transmasculine Jetsun Lama rejoices in this being his first performance since starting HRT. But not everyone is telling the truth. It’s always playful: other cast members are quick to complain if someone has overstepped the mark. They play Map of the World, grouping themselves behind potted palms to shout out their place of origin. Kabul, shouts one; Angola, another. Several boys are from Jamaica. An English lad shouts out WOLVERHAMPTON! while brandishing the smallest, weediest of pot plants, and we all laugh.

The show playful explores masculine competitiveness, as the boys try to best one another in cartwheeling, leaping and finally, showing off their best dance moves. Throughout, the choreography explores movement in response to different, powerful beats. There’s a a brief, atmospheric clubbing scene and another enthralling dance in which the boys stamp and clap give meaning to the forceful rhythms of Botha’s curated sound track.

In three unforgettable sequences, a pair of boys appear alone, come together, playing, leaping into each other’s arms, thrilled with young love. We watch the relationship evolve in unexpected ways.

But not all experiences of youthfulness are joyous ones. Feeling that time is running out is not the preserve of older people, nor is the fear of risk-taking and the show also gives expression to intense experiences of sadness and isolation. Two performers speak of what they wish they could say, one in a letter to his five-year-old self, another the words he has never spoken to his father. In some sequences, a boy is alone, moving in evocative silence. There’s a heart-breaking solo performance of a young man’s tearful song of utter desolation.

It’s a joyous, life-affirming show.

Runs until 23 April 2022