first night

The Boy James

Izzie Price experiences a bumpy trip back to childhood with CTC's 'The Boy James'


‘The Boy James’ centres around the childhood struggle of a boy named James (Hugh Train), who is undergoing a brutal introduction to the world of adulthood. This is depicted mostly through the 8 year old “Boy James” (George Rexstrew), and his journey from a playful child at the beginning to a shivering wreck at the end. As Train departs the scene, despite Rexstrew’s desperate attempts to persuade him to stay, we realise that James has made the decision to turn towards the adult world, leaving his childhood self behind.

As we entered the venue (Castle MCR), we were invited to sit on the assorted armchairs and sofas by Rexstrew, who was leaping around the room with an incredible amount of energy. The interactive nature of the pre-set was handled well. Rather than shrinking behind other audience members and praying not to be picked on, we found ourselves instead hoping have the chance to enter into conversation with the captivating character in front of us.

The interactive nature of the piece continued into the first half of the play. The audience was invited by Rexstrew to play Chinese Whispers and his personal favourite, “Pirates.” A particularly endearing moment was when Rexstrew asked an audience member to check if the cowboys had gone from the window.

The play took a significant turn at the entrance of “The Girl” (Jenny Walser), and from that point there was no more playing of games. The audience, having been happily transported back to our younger selves through being allocated roles on a pirate ship, or being told off by Rexstrew for not being good enough at Chinese Whispers, was suddenly faced with an incredibly disturbing, yet oddly mesmerising, sequence of events.

Walser seemed at first to be a shy, albeit sulky young girl who was being thrown into the world of boys’ games. However, as soon as she uttered the phrase: “I don’t give a fuck”, we became very conscious that this was no normal 8 year old girl. Walser’s performance was utterly chilling from that moment on and the power she had over James was horrifying to watch. 

Moving on to the other actors. Train’s portrayal of the older James was moving, despite his character being slightly underwritten. His repeated attempts to force the Boy James away were incredibly painful to watch and his eventual departure was timed well, leaving us in full knowledge of what a difficult thing that was for his character to do.

The stand out performance of the night, however, was without a doubt Rexstrew’s performance of The Boy. He was captivating as an 8 year old, and his mannerisms, such as wringing the hem of his pyjama shirt in moments of excitement and distress, were beautifully thought through and carried out with the utmost believability. 

Barton’s direction was excellent. The positioning of each scene was perfect, and there was just the right level of impassioned shouting against chilling whispers. Producers Charlotte Thomas and Jessica Christy did well to source some beautiful props, such as various assortments of “buried treasure,” and achieved just the right level of naturalism in terms of the setting itself.

This production is both beautiful and shocking in equal measure. We were transported back to our childhoods and forced to confront the harshest possible elements of adulthood, all in the space of one hour.

The play is not an easy one to watch, although it may seem so at first. However, this is not to say that it is not a stunning production in every sense. It tackles incredibly sensitive topics and gets away with it – not only that, but creates an incredibly powerful and moving piece of theatre.

I would thoroughly recommend taking an hour out of revision to go and see this show (although I hear they’ve sold out the rest of the run, so on second thoughts don’t get too excited!). You will laugh out loud and be moved to tears – and you even get to pretend to be a pirate. 

2 May 2015

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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