Whatsonstage.com took over Trafalgar Studio 2 last night (24 March 2009), selling out to full capacity the 100-seat theatre - and prompting a desperate queue for returns - for our Outing to the stage adaptation of William Sutcliffe’s 1998 novel New Boy. In addition to a free drink before the show, programme and poster, our theatregoers were treated to an exclusive post-show discussion with the play’s adapter and director Russell Labey and the entire cast – Nicholas Hoult, Mel Giedroyc, Ciara Janson, Gregg Lowe and Phil Matthews.

Mark (Nicholas Hoult) starts the sixth form knowing that this is his last chance to impress – to be more popular, more obnoxious, the best informed about gynaecology. Meanwhile, good-looking new boy Barry (Gregg Lowe) seems to be having trouble making friends because everyone’s afraid of him. He could be the perfect ally in Mark's mission to enhance his social status and finally get a shag…

New Boy marks the professional stage debut for Nicholas Hoult, best known from TV’s Skins and films including About a Boy. It’s designed by Jason Denvir, with lighting by Roger Firth.

After its world premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2000, New Boy transferred to London’s Pleasance Theatre and then had runs Off-Broadway and in Australia. It was revived last year, with a cast including Lowe and Phil Matthews, at the fringe Tabard Theatre. The new West End production, which completes its limited season on 11 April, is produced by Jason Haigh-Ellery and Stuart Piper.

Last night’s discussion took place in the theatre immediately after the performance and was chaired by Whatsonstage.com editorial director Terri Paddock. For more photos and feedback, visit our Outings Blog and for details of upcoming events, click here. Edited highlights from the Q&A follow …

At Tuesday’s Q&A, which was hosted by Whatsonstage.com editorial director Terri Paddock, Russell Labey gives insights into adapting the play and its ending, and the cast tell all about why they chose this play, learning their lines and trying not to laugh on stage.

Highlights from the discussion follow…


On discovering & adapting William Sutcliffe's novel

Russell Labey: I was going on a train somewhere, so I went into a WH Smith and I picked up this book and I thought I'd try it. Then when I was on the train, I was reading it and I was laughing out loud. I “LOLed”. I felt sort of sorry for the other people on the train because I was laughing so loud. I thought, there's a play here. So, without any asking permission from anyone - which is completely the wrong way to go about it! - I started adapting it. It’s a beautiful novel and I really highly recommend it to everybody. In fact, I recommend all of William Sutcliffe’s books, he’s a wonderful writer, a lovely lovely man … And he’s very cute! …

I did finally tell (Sutcliffe) about the play. I said, come, see it in Edinburgh, and if you don't like it, we will never do it again. And he liked, well, everyone liked it and that's it. He’s an absolute darling, he’s never been any trouble, a total joy.

On learning lines

Mel Giedroyc: I never feel I really know mine, until the last two or three performances when I'm like, yeah, I know these lines. I always keep a script backstage, just in case. I’m not like these young ones. On the walk from my house to the station, I always practice my lines then. People cross the road, they think I'm crazy.

Phil Matthews: It's getting used to them, going over them, even if it is just walking round your house saying them over and over. Then, of course, it’s also about running through them with the person you're doing the scene with.

Nicholas Hoult: I didn't know my lines for the first two weeks, but after that ... well ... we make most of it up anyway (laughs).

On how not to corpse on stage

Labey: Thinking about screwing Margaret Thatcher was the old one.

Giedroyc: I clench my buttocks.

Gregg Lowe: I press my tongue against the back of my teeth because I think, if you get some tension somewhere, you take it away. Or I just try and make it look like (laughing is) part of the scene.

Nicholas Hoult: I have a lump on the inside of my mouth because I bite it to stop me from laughing. The closer I get to laughing, the harder I bite it.

On working on stage rather than on screen

Ciara Janson: It is different (from acting on screen), but this theatre is so small, so intimate, that it doesn't feel that different. So it's different, but at the same time it's not.

Hoult: It's annoying when people rustle their Tesco bags in the front row ... that’s distracting.

On why the actors wanted to do this play

Giedroyc: For the gags. I read it and I just thought it was so funny, so full of gags. Anything for a laugh!

Janson: Yeah, I just loved the script.

On the ending & the final line

Lowe: It’s kind of that thing (everyone had growing up) - I know I had it, so I’m sure everyone had it – when you had such an intense, “you’re my boy” relationship with a friend. Then one day, you go your separate ways and never speak to each other again. At the time, it seems certain that you will spend more time together, and but it’s just over.

Hoult: The script says my character Mark goes on to become an relationship psychoanalyst with a nuclear family, that’s what happens to him ... Someone was saying drunkenly the other night: you see these characters for this period, but they live on, they live on. That’s right.

Labey: People who know the novel will know that the play has a different ending that we’ve come to work on and use. The novel ends with Mark saying, “Barry never even spoke to me again. I’m better off without him, I still think I could have ‘cured’ him. I still like my brother, which proves I’m not homophobic, doesn’t it?” But the story’s really not about homophobia – Mark says that, but we all say stupid things that we shouldn’t, especially at that age. It’s taken me (until this run) to finally change the ending (with the final line in the play commenting on the people you lose on the way to finding yourself). And William Sutcliffe had the graciousness to say, you cracked the ending, I never ended it right, you finally cracked it.

- by Laura Norman