Photo credit: http://www.boteproductions.co.uk/
I am re-running this feature because "The Custard Boys"- a production that I considered to be the best fringe theatre production I saw in 2012 - has just won the Best New Theatre Production 2012 in the So So Gay Magazine Awards. Congratulations to The Custard Boys!
Cut and pasted from the Tabard Theatre website:
Boys of the Empire Productions present the World Premiere of THE CUSTARD BOYS, Tabard Theatre
Based on the novel by John Rae
Adapted and directed by Glenn Chandler
10 April - 12 May 2012
The Custard Boys: A play about love, war and grown-up stuff
Five London schoolboys are evacuated to a Norfolk seaside village, far from Hitler's bombs. They want to fight for England but are too young to join up and too old to wait. They join the school army cadet force and learn to fire rifles, they form a gang and play at being soldiers. But it is not real war.
Sixteen year old John Curlew dreams of being a Spitfire pilot. Mark Stein is Jewish and a pacifist refugee who hates the war and longs for it to end. When these two boys are thrown together and form a romantic bond, their friendship splits the group and invites fear and prejudice. But it is a challenge to a rival gang which becomes the catalyst for a sinister train of events. While men die in their thousands overseas, in a small corner of rural England a group of schoolboys embark on a final war game which will lead ultimately to tragedy.
The Custard Boys was filmed in the 1960s as Reach for Glory and is a story of sexual awakening, loyalty and betrayal which was compared upon publication to Lord of the Flies.
Follow the link for more details, to view the two teaser trailers, and to book tickets:
Boys of the Empire Website is here:
This is adapted from a novel and a film both of which I am unfamiliar with so, for me, this was a new play. It was genius - the story, the themes, the writing and, in this production, above all else, the acting.
In January I stuck my neck out and said that Haunted Child by Joe Penhall would be, without a shadow of a doubt, the best new play I would have the privilege of seeing live at the theatre this year. I stand by that.
Now, in early May, I am awarding the title of "Best Fringe Theatre Production" to The Custard Boys at the Tabard Theatre. I saw this on Tuesday 1 May. It was OUTSTANDING.
There is a young ensemble cast, but they owned and commanded the stage right from the off. All the young men are on stage about 15 mins before the production opens, hanging out and doing what young men do at school/college in their spare time eg playing cards, chatting, fighting. I loved this informal prologue to the play.
The subject matter of the play spoke to me as it covers the themes of race, religion, sexuality, war, and bullying. The themes of the play are universal and can speak to everyone. The play is very much Lord of the Flies but set in the Norfolk countryside, which makes the story even more shocking, as the events are taking place in the middle of the English countryside with adults present, not on an island in the middle of nowhere with no adults to maintain civilisation and society.
The production really brought that period (ie England during the Second World War) alive for me. That is what theatre should do. It should take you out of yourself, to a different world, and tell you a strong and powerful story that speaks to you. I got a real sense of what it must have been like living in England at the time, sent away a long way away from your parents and your home, and living with the fear that Germany is going to attack or invade at any minute. The first half ends with Norwich being bombed and with the war coming to England; to where the young men are living and being schooled.
A couple of the young actors play women during the course of the play; they play the mothers of the young men, so they are playing middle-aged women. This was excellent; they really captured the female gestures, and movement, the body language and the way of speaking. One of the young actors plays a strict and rigid Headmaster down to a tee, and another does a very good impersonation of Churchill. I thought the acting across the whole of the piece by all the young actors in the ensemble cast was excellent. All the actors were very confident and self-assured; as I said they owned and commanded the stage and that impressed me. It is impossible to give a shout out to one or two of the actors because ALL of the actors in the ensemble were excellent. The cast are here:
The play, for me anyway, explores the themes of bullying, race, religion, sexuality, war, gangs, truth vs lies, and the fact that thoughts and actions will have serious and grave consequences. The ending is truly shocking.
"The horror! The horror!" - Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness.
In a nutshell, without a shadow of a doubt, the BEST FRINGE THEATRE PRODUCTION I will have the privilege of seeing live this year. Well done to The Custard Boys!
Photo credit: http://mag.bent.com/2012/03/the-custard-boys-a-story-of-sexual-awakening-loyalty-and-betrayal/