A review by Laura Anderson for EXTRA! EXTRA!


Cartwright Productions Presents:

The Boy on the Swing


By Joe Harbot

Directed by Joe Murphy

Arcola Theatre

9 March – 9 April 2011


The idea of religion as a money making scheme is nothing new, from preachers who say they'll heal people for money, to claims that Ron Hubbard invented Scientology as a get rich scheme. In this play Murphy's God is "the traditional one, an elderly man with a wispy beard of grey and silver", but the concept is the same. Our protagonist Earl finds a business card on the floor with "Talk to God" inscribed on it. He calls the number and is brought to an office and told by a succession of suited and booted men that they can arrange a meeting with God for him, as long as he supplies them with a billing address and the long number on his credit card.

Earl (Michael Shelford) is something of a blank canvass, the everyman that the audience is supposed to imagine could be them. Murphy avoids the stereotypes of a down on his luck protagonist who seeks God in desperation. Earl is in his late twenties or early thirties, has an okay job and is in good health. Why he is seeking God, and why he persists in his quest even though he calls himself an atheist is left a mystery. For a play that says it's exploring the need for religion in the 21st Century, this can be frustrating. Earl spends most of the time looking confused or slightly blank, and it's a shame his character was not given slightly more depth that he is so easily eclipsed by his co-stars.

Nick Blood is an utter joy to watch as receptionist Jim, bringing deadpan humour and charisma to the role. Peter Bourke is very believable as smooth talking salesman-like co-founder Donald Trust, and Will Barton is simultaneously hilarious and terrifying as Trust's business partner William Hope. Fred Pearson gives a solid performance as the absent minded Old Man, and has some of the best soliloquies in the play.

The offices of the Hope and Trust Foundation have been made suitably drab by Set Designer Hannah Clark - a world of beige walls, shabby furniture and uncomfortable looking chairs. Though scenes take place in a few different offices in this building, they all look much of a much-ness despite slight prop variations. This, along with the unforgiving strip lighting creates a feeling of claustrophobia, which is heightened by the ever present neon "Exit" sign above the door. However an audience surrounding three sides of the stage can be awkward, as actors do spend a considerable amount of time with their back to part of the audience. Jack Knowles (Lighting Director) has chosen to keep the audience lit, which can be distracting. Visually there is not that much going on, so this play would work just as well as a radio play.

Issues about religion are brought up through various metaphors, but any serious points are immediately followed by laughs so the brief questioning tone is lost. Though there are some strong performances and a witty mocking of corporate jargon and systems here, the play doesn't supply us with much food for thought. After the abrupt ending, you may, like Earl, be left slightly confused and wanting something more.

Box Office: www.arcolatheatre.com/02075031646
Studio 2, Arcola Theatre
24 Ashwin Street, London, E8 3DL
Monday-Saturday 8pm
£15/£11 concessions

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