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Boys on the Verge of Tears | Soho Theatre

Winner of the prestigious Verity Bargate award in 2022, Sam Grabiner’s debut play, Boys on the Verge of Tears had a bustling press night at Soho Theatre. Boys on the Verge of Tears promises to be a ‘kaleidoscopic tale of [masculine] violence and vulnerability’ yet does the kaleidoscopic lens need a little refocusing?

The play is set entirely in the grungy theatrical playground of a men’s public bathroom, with a brilliant set design from Ashley Martin-Davis. Boys opens with one of the stellar scenes, a middle-aged father (David Carlyle) awaits his young son who is struggling to complete the ‘act’ of using the bathroom, which is surprisingly funny, intimate and well observed.

The five-person ensemble made up of Matthew Beard, David Carlyle, Calvin Demba, Tom Espiner and Maanuv Thiara are fantastic. They work together with sharpness and playfulness. One must give credit to the superb direction of James Macdonald who never allows the ‘comedy ball’ to drop, and audiences stay engaged throughout the 1 hour, 40-minute run (no interval). The actors each do a brilliant job at breathing life, character and individuality into each of their (many) roles, yet it’s just a little upsetting that we don’t follow anyone on a particular journey.

Herein lies the potential weakness of the piece. There are so many characters within the 100 minutes that we find it hard as an audience to emotionally invest. Arguably a stronger moot point is the fact that Grabiner is grappling with a vast array of huge themes, each one seeming to change with each scene which leads to a lukewarm investigation into each vast topic. For example, one moment we’re watching a piece about fatherhood, then we’re watching someone fighting the effects of drugs and violence in a club bathroom, then we’re watching Santa Clause changing a stoma bag and reminiscing about sex.

Boys on the Verge of Tears almost reads like a staging of a compilation of short stories that explore masculinity, which is all well and good, but Grabiner demonstrates moments of excellence and keen observation of reality, that with a focus on a smaller set of characters and a tighter set of themes, might take the writing to new heights.

Commendations must go to Grabiner in that he doesn’t shy away from what seems to be one of the essential messages of this piece, beautifully summarised by one of his characters, stepfather, that seems to suggest that the masculine body ‘is strange and strong. That has potential for great violence. And great tenderness too.' It is admirable that Grabiner includes this threat of violence and misogyny that can be born from toxic masculinity through the inclusion of a set of high school mates exchanging rape jokes (that intentionally no one finds funny) and the uncomfortable telling of a sexual ‘encounter’ that turns predatory.

Additionally, the Soho Theatre and the Boys on The Verge of Tears team include trigger warnings and provide a scannable support pack for audience members who may be affected by the themes, which is really an excellent thing to be promoting and makes the entire experience feel safe for people of all genders and experiences. It is important as a society, and indeed, as theatre lovers that we uplift, support and invest our time in these fresh and promising productions from emerging artists.

Indeed, Boys on the Verge of Tears is an impressive mind-scratching new play that

explores the full spectrum of masculinity from tenderness to violence yet sometimes

leaves audiences a little lost on the way. Boys on the Verge of Tears runs at Soho Theatre until 18th May - for more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Marc Brenner


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