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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
The Dead Eye Boy
by Lizzie Loveridge

He's testing everybody. He's acting out . . . I think about the anger I felt at his age.  
--- Billy
 The Dead Eye Boy
Sid Mitchell as Soren & Nicola Walker as Shirley-Diane
(Photo: Tristram Kenton)
Hampstead Theatre is committed to new writing and brings Angus MacLachlan's prize winning play The Dead Eye Boy to London. There may be few similarities between North Carolina, where the play is set and London but the situation of two junkies bringing up a neglected and disturbed child is one which is sadly familiar. The main thrust here is that the two junkies are coming through their addiction in an attempt to build a new life but inherit the destruction of the past. I was almost pleasantly surprised. I can hardly regard my own family as dysfunctional after seeing MacLachlan's desperate play and I found that The Dead Eye Boy has a strangely incongruous "feelgood" factor. After all, I never had to restrain my teenagers by binding them mouth, hand and foot with elephant tape! I agree with Les Gutman (his review of the New York production with Lili Taylor) that the play seems to lacks a coherent plot and I found the ending confusing, but the performances from the adults are excellent and some of the scenes not only well written but also penetrating in the genre of Sam Sheppard.

Soren, (Sid Mitchell) the boy, who was conceived was when his 14 year old mother Shirley-Diane (Nicola Walker) was raped, was born damaged, presumably by an incompetent forceps delivery and blinded in one eye. Through inadequate mothering from his single parent who, little more than a child herself, has no idea of how to raise a child, Soren's damage is also psychological. MacLachlan portrays the mother's volatility, extremes of rage, her own childish behaviour and the near sexual but certain physical abuse of her son. Despite the relative stability Shirley finds in her relationship with recovering drug addict Billy (Brendan Coyle), and his understanding of the boy, the die is cast with Soren's upbringing by a mother crazed on crack. The relentless circle is completed when Soren leaves crack in the house for his "clean"mother to find and ultimately use. The less convincing sub plot is that Billy has recurring nightmares about the death of a child, a small toddler in a burnt out car and that he was the cause of the accident and that this has some prophetic relevance to his life with Soren and Shirley.

Matthew Wright's claustrophobic set is a small house in a poor area with few possessions, outside edges of the yard covered in shredded black rubber, giving the impression of tarmac. This is a violent household with no privacy, no individual space and outside is darkness. The director has not shied away from the fist fights and there are times when all three members of the cast are in a bundle like a wrestling match, a strange merger of sexual play and wrestling. Walker has the bruises to prove this. Pale eyed Nicola Walker is exceptional as the likeable yet desperately short fused mother, trying for some kind of family life, but thwarted by her son. Brendan Coyle, a fine performance too, brings a solidity to the part of Billy, a man who has spent time in prison because of the need to fund his addiction but who seems genuine in his desire to reform. I particularly liked the scene when he rehearses his sales patter to sell vacuum cleaners but gives up. Sid Mitchell has a difficult task in playing the psychotic teenager Soren, both at fifteen and at ten years old when they visit the psychiatrist. It is a tall task for a young actor to get both the accent and the complexity of the role. I think the audience at Hampstead found this play difficult judging from the squirming and shifting in the seats and it is the first time I recall this theatre not being full. However, MacLachlan has a gift for authentic dialogue and according to the programme has just completed his thirteenth play. I hope in these new plays he has found a story line to match his writing.

The Dead Eye Boy
Written by Angus MacLachlan
Directed by Jennie Darnell

With: Nicola Walker, Brendan Coyle and Sid Mitchell
Design: Matthew Wright
Sound: Gregory Clarke
Lighting Design: Jason Taylor
Running time: Two hours twenty minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7722 9301
Booking to 9th February 2002
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 24th January performance at Hampstead Theatre, Swiss Cottage, London NW3
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