The terrifying consequences of the fragile male ego needing constant admiration and the inability to challenge peer group expectations are heartbreakingly explored in Gbolahan Obisesan’s Mad About the Boy.
During a parent/teacher conference a disaffected Boy (Bayo Gbadamosi) , his Dad (Jason Barnett) and counsellor (Simon Darwen) discuss a wide range of topics. They consider whether rules should be obeyed, challenged or simply ignored and if respect should be earned or demanded. Although not ignorant the Boy has a frightening lack of empathy and a fear of losing face amongst his peer group that leads to a terrifying conclusion.
Although the themes in the play are heavy their delivery is stylish and, at times, very funny. There is a Stoppard-like pleasure in the comic confusion of the characters as they try and decipher the multiple meanings of apparently simple words like ‘Bad’.
The inability of the different generations to communicate is apparent in Ria Parry’s skilful direction. Although the play is essentially as series of conversations none of the characters ever make eye contact. Their remarks are addressed direct to the audience – making them isolated in their own world. There is only one moment where two characters actually look at each other. The effect is electric and offers the only ray of hope.
All the performances are excellent but Gbadamosi is outstanding. Even before the play starts he makes clear the self-absorption of the Boy. He does not so much dance to John Hoggarth’s electro pulse soundtrack as strut cockily around the stage imagining the adoration of an audience. As the play develops so too does his performance. After an initial indifference to the opinions of anyone outside of his narrow social circle and a savage contempt for women the Boy begins to experience the confusion of trying to relate to another person. As the Boy becomes caught within his own conventions Gbadamosi brilliantly adopts the panicked look of a trapped animal.
Mad About the Boy is not an easy play to watch – even if you can endure the desolate tone you search in vain for a character that is likable. But if you’re in the mood for a challenging and powerful play this is essential. Brutal, bold and bloody brilliant.