Writer: Declan Bennett
Director: Nancy Sullivan
A full length monologue about the hardships of lockdown is not, on the face of it, the most appetising theatrical prospect. It is, after all, an experience that we have all experienced first hand and, for many, have no wish to relive. But to dismiss Boy Out the City, Declan Bennett’s autobiographical spoken word piece, would be to miss out on a riveting analysis of one man’s whole life so far.
When it became clear that the first lockdown was not going to blow over in a few weeks, Bennett and his boyfriend took the decision to leave their London life behind and rent a house in the small Oxfordshire market town of Watlington. But their dream of a rural idyll is scuppered when Bennett’s boyfriend gets an acting job in Atlanta, leaving his partner feeling truly isolated.
The vacuum left by his partner is filled by Bennett’s repressed childhood traumas, which resurface as he reflects on family and school life. Bennett’s delicately worded monologue relies heavily on repetition, both to signify the depressing mundanity of lockdown life and to portray mantras which have followed him through life as an Irish Catholic growing up in Coventry, and which resurface throughout.
But Bennett, under the directorial eye of Nancy Sullivan, also balances tragedy and humour nicely. His monologue delves into his discovery of a taste for singing and performing – triggered by the ultimate life-changing movie, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit – and how he attempted to pursue that at school without further exacerbating the homophobic bullying to which he was already subject.
Such bullying leaves scars, and Bennett is clear that they take a long time to heal. When retelling how he was diagnosed with aggressive testicular cancer at the age of 23, the disease that wants to kill him metamorphoses into a homophobic schoolboy, telling the teenage Bennett that he is dead.
But such reflection, even while it comes as Bennett starts to lose his grip on a lockdown life dominated by wine and baking, shows a man coming out the other side; someone who would not be the man he is if he had had any other experience in his past life.
Surrender to your story, Bennett tells the audience, and make friends with the frayed edges of your life. From viewing this impressive monologue, such celebratory introspection may be traumatic, but can only make one stronger.
Continues until 13 November 2021