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Phil Willmott

Review: BOY TOY at Above the Stag Theatre

Boy Toy Now here’s a very interesting idea from London’s alternative theatre scene. Although perhaps it might be more accurate to call it a promising idea because although choreographer and theatre maker, William Spencer’s 60 minute narrative ballet, BOY TOY (based on the Coppelia story from classical ballet) is great fun, the most exciting thing about it is the potential he shows to really shake up LGBT theatre and beyond.

Dance, of course, can be an incredibly powerful medium, at its best it can capture an inner spirit which mere words can’t convey. Behind the witty banter and sexual sparring of the modern gay scene lies an ocean of unexpressed loneliness, fear, joy and a search for meaning and identity. What better way to explore the psyche of boys out on the pull then by taking the surface chatter as read and presenting, through dance and movement, what the lads are really feeling?

Firstly, let’s be clear, BOY TOY is not that type of piece, and it doesn’t claim to be. it’s a sex comedy with lots of dildo waving, tight shorts and mugging.

The plot begins with a gay couple and their best friend out on a joint stag/hen night. They each fall in a lust with a shop window dummy in S&M gear, the creation of a pervy sex shop owner. As a result relationships unwind before regrouping for a happy ending.

Matthew Brazier plays the couple's gawky best friend; an explosion of loose flying limbs and comic timing he utilises immaculate technique with bold character dancing rather like a young Robert Helpmann. Lance Collins dances with a strutting machismo as the more traditionally masculine half of the couple, beautifully capturing the posturing of the “straight acting” gay man. His partner is danced by Saul Kilcullen-Jarvis who succeeds in demonstrating an inherent kindness and vulnerability in a sweet character who might otherwise be simply wet. Callum Tempest is perhaps the best dancer of the lot, despite being required to play an ugly caricature of an old pervert, his secure and grounded technique means that every movement really pops and fizzles. Aaron Clingham has provided a new, free, jazz arrangements of Delibes’ Coppelia score which has many interesting and inspired ideas even if the execution of it is a little ragged. 

The sexy camp frivolity of Boy Toy is nothing to apologise for, the piece never asks to be taken seriously and there are good reasons why its conceived and presented as light entertainment. The project is another feather in the cap of The Above the Stag Theatre and its uber enterprising Artistic Director, Peter Bull. It’s the UK’s only full time professional venue dedicated to LGBT work, it has a swanky new Vauxhall venue, It doesn’t get anything like the press coverage it deserves and no public subsidy. And it’s usually packed because it delivers what its core audience want to see, basically titillating comedy, or that uniquely British combination of the two – “sauciness”.

A preponderance of this type of populist theatre in its repertoire keeps the box office busy and subsidises their occasional forays into more issue based drama a couple of times a year (which it also does very well). Put simply if William Specer had created a serious dance piece no one would come, the fact that it’s a sex comedy means people will, and who can quarrel with that?

Although It made me smile throughout, what really got my heart racing were the moments when it transcended all the silliness and demonstrated what a clever choreographer Spencer is. There is a very effecting sequence evoking, in abstract, sex between two men. Spedncer stops trying to make us laugh for a moment and the result is something that’s both beautiful and expresses the state of the couples troubled relationship, the power play, the yearning and the meeting of two lost souls. OK and it’s also sexy too.

It’s moments like this which demonstrate what an exciting new voice in dance Spencer could be and there’s definitely room for narrative LGBT dance that’s edgier then Matthew Bourne’s big budget, main stage ballets and follows in the traditions of DV8 (whatever happened to them?)

I really hope the venue can afford the financial risk of allowing William Spencer and his musical arranger Aaron Clingham to make a serious piece about their generation soon.

But if they want to conceive another 60 minutes of wank jokes and crutch thrusting that’s fine too. They’re very good at it.