Boys on the Verge of Tears – Soho Theatre, London

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer: Sam Grabiner

Director: James Macdonald

Winner of Soho Theatre’s biannual Verity Bargate Award for new writing, Sam Grabiner’s 2022 competition entry now makes its debut guided by revered West End director James Macdonald. Boys on the Verge of Tears is a unified patchwork of stories, incidents and whole belief systems absorbed and perpetuated by men of all ages over several decades but set in a single location that seems to journey through time while remaining eternally the same. A commentary on contemporary masculinity and its pressures, promise and peculiarities, Grabiner defies his debutant status to deliver a mature reflection on being a man in the 21st century.

Set in a toilet block a series of encounters take place between groups of men of all ages. Grabiner’s play has a rough chronology as the young children of the start become teenagers, young men and later grown-ups, reflecting on the lives they could have lived and the boy that has been left behind. In every case, a celebratory event of some kind draws them all together to commune and complain about the trials they face.

There is a huge amount going on in Boys on the Verge of Tears with scenes running effortlessly into one another with no deliberate demarcation between them. An opening segment introduces the youngest character behind a stall door unable to put his toilet training into practice while his increasingly exasperated father tries to guide him along. This gives way to two very slightly older boys at a fancy dress party, later some lads preparing for a disco, succeeded by some older teenagers deciding whose house to meet at that night. As the boys age, their distance from one another increases and Grabiner charts the complex responses to their own bodies which become consciously capable of terrible and joyous actions.

An undercurrent of violence feeds through the show, from tots Zaid and Callum playing with a large knife one of them steals from the cake table to Simon touting a fake gun when dressed as James Bond and with Hunter wielding a sharp toasting fork, the implements of aggression and danger are casually wielded. This takes a physical form in an extended sequence with Jo, beaten up and covered in blood, who remains in the toilet for a long time, largely ignored by other users while some try to help or torment him further to little avail. Grabiner’s thoughts on the distance that grows between men as they age is well dramatised, moving from the sweet little boys sharing openly to asking when do they stop caring about each other.

The anthological style of Boys on the Verge of Tears results in some sections being more effective than others so while the arrival of drag queens Maureen and Vanessa is a comic highpoint amplified by excellent deadpan performances, the arrival of demons and a long section in which the audience watch the toilets being cleaned feel superfluous. It also needs a slightly tighter conclusion, leaping from the behaviour of men in their 20s to the health issues later in life, bypassing entirely all the bits in the middle – relationships, sexuality, fatherhood and work – that could add greater texture.

Performed by a cast of just five – Matthew Beard, David Carlyle, Calvin Demba, Tom Espiner and Maanuv Thiara – Boys on the Verge of Tears announces a thoughtful new voice on contemporary concepts of masculinity and the influences that take a lifetime to unravel.

Runs until 18 May 2024

The Reviews Hub Score


Show More
Photo of The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button
The Reviews Hub