The Boy Who Cried presents an interesting premise; tangling the mythology of outcast creatures with the way in which we treat, and have treated, those who suffer from mental health problems. Unfortunately what could have been an intriguingly innovative way of exploring the minefield of issues surrounding mental illness is poorly underserved by an ironically schizophrenic, and at times intensely problematic script.
A young girl has gone missing, and Sam Elvin (Jordan Mallory-Skinner) has been reported to the authorities by his mother (Shelley Lang) as she suspects that he may be mythologically at risk (a werewolf). Protection Officer Thompson (Jake Curran) now has 28 days to determine through increasingly questionable methods of interrogation whether or not Sam is guilty of the girl’s abduction and in fact suffering from lunacy (sic).
Veering rapidly off piste, Matt Osman renders none of his characters sympathetic – Sam is inscrutable, his mother Sylvia barely a character at all and Thompson a confusing mess of appalling misogyny and downright cruelty. One imagines this persona is designed to render him repulsive, but it serves only to make the production distasteful as it is entirely comprised of puzzlingly throwaway remarks and not coherent enough to knit itself into a personality trait; instead winding up with him trotting out insufferable rape jokes at allotted intervals. Getting away with “he’s not the only monster with a monthly cycle” may have passed in the opening scene, but by the latter stages of the play even the nervous laughter has died down.
Talbot (Loz Keystone) and Spencer (Hamish MacDougall) – Thompson’s by-the-book trainee officers – provide welcome comic relief as the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of the piece; their parts much more in keeping with the Monty Python humour that occasionally breaks through as though it has wandered in from another play. Paradoxically, it is the best part. Through their lens, some moments of genuine insight appear as the Elvins are offered a choice between bars and mesh in order to ‘personalise’ the transformation of their home into a cell, and a series of post its with stars and planets drawn on are slapped on the door to create the illusion of space (I’ll give you a moment with that one).
The Boy Who Cried has some good fundamentals in the mix – clearly a lot of thought was given to the conceit and there is some genuinely enjoyable humour and a willingness to take a creative approach to larger issues. Curran and particularly Mallory-Skinner do well with not much to go on but regrettably Lang is left grasping at straws for a character that seems to have little empathy with her son or will of her own. It would be nicer to believe that it is not intentional, but the attitude towards and representation of women is nothing short of horrendous and was frankly difficult to endure in what was already a piece much in need of trimming.
The Boy Who Cried is playing at the Hope Theatre, Islington until March 29th