BOY PARTS at Soho Theatre
“it’s wittier and more playful, equal parts cheerful and chilling.”
This sizzling one woman show adapted from Eliza Clark’s acclaimed novel is provocative and powerful and deeply sinister.
The play follows Irina (Aimée Kelly), a Newcastle based fetish photographer who is exploring the subversion of the male gaze in her work. After a London gallery requests something more hardcore, her work becomes increasingly violent. She begins blurring lines of consent, and increasingly of reality.
We are immersed into the story from the off. The audience are greeted with business cards, the curtain has projections of gallery description labels, we have been invited to an exhibition opening. Peter Butler’s set design sees the stage left bare, except for one stool and one thin gauze screen. And one performer. Sara Joyce’s simple and intimate direction works strikingly well throughout, a particular moment stands out where Kelly sits down on the edge of the stage, swinging her legs into the stalls, and addressing the audience directly and frankly.
Gillian Greer’s adaptation is direct and sparse. The story has been streamlined, and simplified, which works well. It does lose some of the claustrophobic skin crawling horror of the novel. Instead, it’s wittier and more playful, equal parts cheerful and chilling.
Joyce’s direction sees a mix of live performance with video elements designed by Hayley Egan. This allows Joyce to play with time and space, but also employs effects to startle and discomfort the audience.
“This is the kind of urgent, provocative theatre that Soho Theatre does best”
Kelly’s performance is compelling and intense. She multi-roles, throwing herself into every character with passion and focus. She is also heavily pregnant, something which is rare to see on stage, but is an important step in the fight for pregnant actors’ rights. It is a physical performance, and one which explores the body and sex, and it’s fascinating how quickly we forget her pregnancy, and focus on the performance. It is a really impressive feat.
The sound (Tom Foskett-Barnes) and lighting (Christopher Nairne) designs are contemporary and raw. Playing into the exploration of photography and visual mediums there is multimedia – projections of long exposure photography, layered film, letters, flashing images, words and text messages. Flickering lights, pulsing beats, prolonged projections of brightly coloured screens – all of these combine to build audience discomfort, along with the startling subject matter.
Parts of the play feels a little literal, a bit on the nose. Everything does tie up but some moments are a bit disjointed, maybe a little rushed. While the messaging of the play is perhaps too spelled out, the ideas are fascinating. How far must Irina go to be taken seriously as a threat?
This is the kind of urgent, provocative theatre that Soho Theatre does best. The adaptation feels as fresh and almost as shocking as the novel, while also being funny.
BOY PARTS at Soho Theatre
Reviewed on 23rd October 2023
by Auriol Reddaway
Photography by Joe Twigg
Previously reviewed at this venue: