Although presented as two shows in one night, it would be unfair to review Kevin Wood’s production of The Boys in the Band / The Girls in the Band together as they are such very different shows so, quite unusually, the review also appears in two separate halves.
Act One – The Boys in the Band
Mart Crowley’s original off-broadway production of The Boys in the Band opened in 1968, to a world that was very different from the one we have today. So different, in fact, that it sent shockwaves through the mainstream theatre world. Why? – because just about all of the characters are gay and Crowley’s wonderfully written piece showed them in all their natural, bitchy, promiscuous and camp reality.
The scene is the New York apartment owned by the central character Michael, who is preparing to host a birthday party for his long-time “frenemy”, Harold. An assortment of Harold’s closest friends has been invited and pretty soon we find ourselves in, what is probably best described as, a gay version of Abigail’s Party. (I wonder if this is where Mike Leigh got his inspiration?)
Most of the actors in the piece are incredibly well known female impersonators (drag queens, if you like) but, for the first time on stage, they all appear as men. Dave Lynn, a familiar face on the drag scene and on TV, takes on the role of Michael and performs it well. He holds the party together, despite crumbling internally as the action unfolds.
Jason Sutton (aka Miss Jason) is Donald, the first of the guests to arrive and, very obviously, Michael’s closest friend. He dislikes everything that New York is, and only pops in at weekends to join in the fun. He retains his cool when all around starts to fall apart and Sutton is a wonderfully steadying influence in the part.
As they begin to chat, Michael gets a call from his old college roommate Alan, who is distraught and looking for a friendly chat. As Alan is straight, Michael is worried about inviting him round to witness such “flamboyant” guests but, nevertheless, invites him over. However, just a few moments later, Alan calls back to say that he can’t make it.
Positively bursting through the front door, of Janet Bird’s very well designed set, we next meet Emory and Bernard. Alan Trainor (aka Rose Garden) and Del Bell-Haynes (aka Sandra) excel in these parts and bring with them as much camp comedy, effeminate mannerisms and slapstick as they can fit in. Within minutes they have the assembled company dancing wildly around the apartment – just as Alan, portrayed brilliantly by Stephen Richards (aka Lola Lasagne), decides to change his mind and turn up.
Disfunctional couple Larry and Hank played by Stephen Bacon (aka Lady La Rue) and Allan Jay arrive next and they bring with them a dramatic tension that reveals unhealthy cracks in their relationship. The tension is broken, momentarily, with the arrival of Harold’s birthday present, a cowboy stripagram.
Andrew Simeon is simply perfect as the incredibly cute, but intellectually lacking, stripper and then, finally, Richard Byrne (aka Titti La Camp), turns up as, habitually late birthday boy, Harold.
With the stage now filled with a wonderful collection of superbly portrayed characters, the scene is set for Director, Christopher Biggins, to bring on a parade of fantastic one-liners and unleash the comic, tragic, fast paced, moving, camp, bitter and heart-wrenching party from hell.