Creating a small, tent-like performance space in The Vault at Southwark Playhouse, Alexander Wright's The Boy James
is inspired by the life of J.M. Barrie, although he's not specifically named as such in the text. There's a very endearing start as The Boy (Jethro Compton) greets everyone and escorts them into the performance area, a study surrounded by chairs and cushions, and invites the audience first to take a seat, and then to join him in games. As the show proper begins though things take a darker turn with the arrival of adult James (James Wilkes) whom The Boy clearly loves but is also wary of, as he no longer wants to join in with the fun. The Boy is of course a Peter Pan figure begging to lead James and the audience to distant lands of adventure but this show gives Barrie a second inner child, The Girl, (Lucy Farrett) who represents a crueller aspect of childhood and one which is much more eager to grow up.
Last year, David Greig's version of Peter Pan
subtly but unmistakeably portrayed Peter's refusal to grow up as a fear of sex, and this is what Wright's play is mainly interested in - The Girl's function is largely to provide a frightening sexual figure The Boy isn't prepared for. The performances are good and director Dominic J Allen creates an atmospheric show but there's a lack of focus to the writing and the play feels at the same time both unfinished and as if there's not enough material there to fill the hour. In this dimly-lit study (lighting also by Compton, who pulls triple duty as producer) though, the show does succeed in creating some touching moments as the adult tries to shake off his inner child. Unfortunately there's a huge error of judgement right at the end - the audience participation kicks in again as an audience member is required to read a lengthy letter out; the cast and crew not having made allowances for the possibility that the person who volunteers might, as was the case tonight, be almost completely inaudible in a pretty crucial scene.The Boy James
by Alexander Wright is booking until the 28th of January at The Vault at Southwark Playhouse.