Joe/Boy is quite an unexpected treat. Situated in a converted industrial unit on an industrial estate in Peckham, stepping into The Last Refuge is like stepping into another world. Joe/Boy is a pairing of two one-act, one-man monologues written by Hywel John. They explore the divisions within London, the lives of Londoners and feelings of being lost and of being found.
The first of the two, Joe, is performed by the impeccable Jay Taylor. The monologue follows two Joes whose lives violently collide for an instant in a Wetherspoons, before they separate again. The piece doesn’t give all the answers to the audience, and this ambiguity is its greatest strength. Taylor delivers both characters’ perspectives on the event, and flips between the two at the drop of a hat – no, quicker. It is thrilling to watch. Hywel John’s writing makes the mundane, special and the every-day, fascinating. Natalie Ibu’s subtle, simple, character-centric direction is completely appropriate. The production seems to take a lot from Grotowski’s ‘poor theatre’ – there is no elaborate set, no fancy lighting or costumes. The spectacle is the actor and his voice, body, performance. Taylor creates a striking relationship with the audience, which is admirable considering he embodies two characters simultaneously. Elliot Grigg’s cold, subtle lighting is effective and follows through the emphasis on the actor rather than any other theatrical distractions.
Boy is the second monologue of the pairing, and it is less enthralling than the first. Despite actor Christopher Knott’s hard work and commitment, it is simply quite difficult to relate to the character depicted. The narrative follows an unnamed man sat in a Wetherspoons telling us about his ‘boy’, about how much he loves his ‘boy’. Again, the piece is dripping with ambiguity but in this case it makes the piece a little too impenetrable for those who are hearing it for the first time. The man’s constant reiterations of “Don’t look at me like that, I know that look” addressed to the audience seem to dictate how we should be feeling, and this doesn’t entirely work. This is a shame, because again the direction and acting are strong, and the production intriguing. The narrative of the piece is good, and the writing otherwise strong; it does show potential.
Having said that, however, this is a commendable work. It is exploratory and experimental, and there is a great deal of talent on show. Despite imperfections, it is thrilling to see new talent being nurtured and supported. Long may it continue.
**** (4 stars)