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Reviews: Live Shows

Wed 18 Apr, 2012
By Robert Ingham

keeps a strong pace throughout, as well as being touching and enrapturing.

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Set in World War II, The Custard Boys is about love, growing up and betrayal. Based on the novel by John Rae, it tells the story of seven boys who have been evacuated to Norfolk and who end up in the same gang at school. Most are quintessentially British, but the arrival of Mark, an Austrian refugee, sends ripples of derision through the class. However, when the Headmaster commands one of the boys, John, to look after the newcomer, a sweet admiration develops between them, much to the horror of those around them.

When released in 1961, the novel of love between two boys courted great controversy but these days it seems to lose a lot of the shock value, especially with some of the stories we read in the press. Nevertheless, this superb play is a heart-wrenching look at how the actions of two youngsters can have such huge effects on everyone around them.

The simple set sits in a very intimate space bordering on claustrophobia, especially when the whole cast are on stage, but it is used immensely effectively and designer, Cecilia Cary, should be lauded for creating a set where everything doubles and triples up into numerous convincing locations.

The cast are also incredibly talented, taking us on a journey whether it be a figment of their imaginations or otherwise. High praise must go to Charlie Cussons (John) and Andrew St. Pierre (Mark), whose wide-eyed innocence and hesitancy captivate. Andrew’s perfect Austrian accent is particularly impressive. Jack Cameron plays gang leader Lewis with an ice-cold bully mentality that chills. However, perhaps the strongest performer is Josh Hall, who plays geeky Felix. Not only does he shine in each role he plays (for he also plays the Headmaster), but his improvisation skills are excellent.

Glenn Chandler has expertly adapted John Rae’s novel, creating a multi-layered world that keeps a strong pace throughout, as well as being touching and enrapturing. It is very difficult to believe that this is Glenn’s directorial debut – what a brilliant start to a very promising career.

Only a couple of moments stop this from being outstanding. Firstly, every so often the lighting was brought up in the audience, which is not a huge issue if the cast were interacting with the audience, but as they didn’t it felt as if there was no reason for this. Interestingly, we were told they were having lighting issues, but it wasn’t the only time they went on and off at strange intervals. Certainly at the end when the tension and shock peaked, the lighting effect somewhat devalued the cast’s efforts.

Another issue was when cast members spoke to the audience. The only time this worked was when Jack Elliot Thomson thanked the audience for listening to his sorrowful story. Any other time, it broke the 4th wall and detracted from the intensity that scene had created.

Apart from these small gripes, this was an engrossing evening of superb performances, great direction and fine costumes which deserves a move into a more central and accessible venue. It is one play that calls for repeat viewings and everyone involved should be congratulated on putting together a show that is gripping and enthralling from beginning to end.

‘The Custard Boys’ is at The Tabard Theatre in Turnham Green until May 12th.

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