Boys From The Blackstuff

Directed by Kate Wasserberg, "Boys From The Blackstuff" is a truly fantastic piece of theatre. Set around 40 years ago, the play follows the lives of five unemployed tarmac (blackstuff) layers, delving into their moral dilemmas surrounding job seekers' benefits, the hunt for regular work, and cash-in-hand jobs. I will mention here that I am unfamiliar with the TV series so cannot comment on similarities.

The narrative is thought-provoking, choosing to highlight issues for the audience to ponder rather than providing clear resolutions. The play opens with some foreshadowing, a dramatic technique that, while appreciated, slightly diminishes the potential impact of what could have been a shocking turning point.

Set and Costume Designer Amy Jane Cook has opted for a symbolic and understated approach, using minimal elements to effectively tell the story. A standout moment involves doors on either side of the stage, where Helen Carter's character juggles conversations on both sides while answering a telephone, creating a wonderfully chaotic scene. Another memorable moment is a humorous sequence involving the construction of a wall.

Jamie Jenkin, the video designer, has crafted abstract scenes that are visually stunning yet do not distract from the performance. The acting is superb, with each performer convincingly embodying their Liverpool roots.

Barry Sloane’s portrayal of Yosser stands out as a highlight. Yosser, the tough guy of the group, grapples with underlying mental fragility. Sloane delivers an excellent performance, balancing toughness with moments of vulnerability and humour, particularly in a powerful slow-motion fight sequence that captivated the audience.

Post-interval, the pace slows, allowing for a deeper focus on individual performances rather than the group dynamic. Nathan McMullen’s portrayal of Chrissie is particularly noteworthy. McMullen brings authenticity to the role, portraying Chrissie as a regular guy facing tough times without adding unnecessary charisma or exaggeration. His comedic lines are perfectly in tune with his character, enhancing the overall performance.

The themes explored in "Boys From The Blackstuff" resonate profoundly with our present political climate. With the use of AI and the population boom, job security remains a significant concern, mirroring the struggles depicted in the play. The issues of unemployment, financial instability, and the search for dignity in work are as relevant today as they were 40 years ago, making this production not only a historical reflection but also a commentary on contemporary societal challenges.

Overall, "Boys From The Blackstuff" is a masterful production that combines strong direction, design, and acting to create a memorable and thought-provoking theatrical experience.

This show was reviewed on the 29th May 2024 at The National Theatre, London where it runs until the 8th June 2024.  Tickets available here: Boys from the Blackstuff | National Theatre

The show will then be transferring to the Garrick Theatre in the West End from the 13th June 2024 for 8 weeks.  Tickets available here: Alan Bleasdale's Boys From The Blackstuff | Garrick Theatre

Review written by Valentine Gale-Sides


Photo credit: Alastair Muir

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