The Boy on the Swing: Joe Harbot
Arcola Theatre, 8pm, Monday to Saturday until 9th April 2011
Runs: 1h 35m, one interval
Review: Alec Mullion, 24 03 11

A witty existential offering.

When Waiting for Godot made its first appearance in London in August 1955 it was met with a wide measure of incomprehension. Existential Theatre of the Absurd was born. Nine years later the same play was revived at London’s Royal Court Theatre. The general verdict was that the play was now a modern classic but had one great fault: Its meaning and symbolism were a little too obvious.

And so to this offering . . . Joe Murphy directs, with aplomb, Joe Harbot’s quick witted, pacey and comic play, The Boy on the Swing. Earl (Michael Shelford), in apparent bewilderment and confusion of his life, is waiting to ask God those basic existential questions. We know that because, for the majority of the play, Earl spends a lot of time in the waiting room of a very officious ‘Hope and Trust Foundation’ as a consequence of having phoned a number on a found business card. A business card that states he can meet God. For a fee. If he passes some tests; absurd tests.

Through Earl’s quest to meet God he encounters ritual-like, archetypal characters who follow said God’s rules, well . . . religiously: Nick Blood’s excellently dry delivery of Jim, the office receptionist, must have Earl answer any and all questions on his computer before he can progress to the next phase.

Will Barton’s solidly believable hyena-in-a-suit, used car salesman type character, William, asks Earl to play a game with him, which you instantly feel will come to no good in the end. It is played with great detail, pace and hilarious commitment. Peter Bourke flawlessly plays Donald – the demeanour and dress reminiscent of an undertaker and the tongue and stare of a snake. You feel he can mesmerise Earl into doing virtually anything he desires of him, should he so wish. In some previous career, he no doubt sold coal to Newcastle.

Although Michael Shelford’s Earl is the protagonist, you can’t help feel for the actor that the majority of his purpose is to look confused while introducing us to these other, much better developed and far more interesting characters. Shelford’s talent deserves a third dimension to his character.

The officious theme of this play is echoed in Hannah Clark’s stark stage design, staged in the thrust with no more than a desk, a phone and a couple of chairs.
The play’s ending comes as quickly as its comedy and rhetoric, which leaves some audience members questioning the need for its abruptness and lack of conclusion as well as asking why we have an interval immediately prior to a fifteen-minute final act.

Actors: Will Barton, Nick Blood, Peter Bourke, Fred Pearson, Michael Shelford

Director: Joe Murphy
Set Design: Hannah Clarke
Costume Design: Ruth Sutcliffe
Lighting Design: Jack Knowles

2011-03-25 11:16:58

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