I should have known what to expect from the Union Theatre’s revival of David Eldridge’s 2006 play Market Boy just by looking at their advertising poster. In front of a pair of jeans is a stiff, upright banana with on either side, a pair of red, juicy apples at the bottom – not a very subtle poster and certainly not a subtle piece of theatre.
Set in Romford Market in Essex in the mid to late 80s, Market Boy re-introduces the audience to words that the so-called PC Brigade, had seemingly outlawed such as nonce, retard and Argie amongst others, as well as all the very worst swear words – and there’s an awful lot of those. Market Boy isn’t for the prudish or faint-hearted! There’s even a character with a stutter who’s teased mercilessly.
Originally produced at the National on the vast Olivier stage with a cast of 38, Sasha Regan’s production has been scaled down for the postage stamp performance space at the Union, but it still has a large cast of 20. This should have been 21 but unfortunately, just a few days before opening night, Lily Cooper had an unfortunate accident and was unable to appear, with the rest of the cast seamlessly covering her roles.
As for the plot, there isn’t much of one – it’s just the goings on in a street market at a specific period of time. There is a bit of a love story between the eponymous market boy and a girl but it’s pretty slight and fairly inconsequential. All the characters are clichéd and two dimensional and as there are so many of them, it’s hard to feel empathy or understanding for any of them as they never really develop. There are archetypal market traders and stereotypical Essex girls – none of whom are anything but larger than life cartoon characters. As someone said to me at the interval “It’s like Eastenders on acid”. How prophetical he was as, in the second act, one of the characters takes LSD and imagines Margaret Thatcher with a pair of giant lobster claws!
Mrs Thatcher had appeared in the first act too but in an iconic rather than ironic fashion, an idol to the market traders as someone to look up to as the market booms although this being the 80s, it later busts with serious consequences all around.
The whole piece was very confusing and uneven. There were some very funny lines, but it was the puerile dialogue and the swearing that got the biggest laughs. It’s possible that David Eldridge was trying to make a point about the economy at the time and the Thatcherite revolution, but it seems he was more for her than against her as the market boys (and girls) seem to love rather than loathe the “Iron Lady”; this is no “Billy Elliott”.
What this production does have going for it is the tremendous energy of the ensemble cast who give it all they’ve got. They’re helped by Justin Williams’ superb set which in a tiny space, gives the audience a flavour of Romford Market with a two-tier set-up and tremendous attention to detail. He is also responsible for the many costumes which include two Roman soldiers in togas and a Tudor Lord! There’s also an excellent use of the music of the era which helps to set the scene.
I have no idea how the economics work with a cast of 21 in a tiny theatre that seats around 75 but whilst Market Boy left me very confused about what it was trying to say, I wish them luck with the rest of the run.
Review by Alan Fitter
There is an art to selling stilettos and you’d better grasp it. Learn a good wind-up, learn the pull of the cash, learn drugs, learn sex, and run wild with the market monkeys. Stay sharp in the ruthless world of the Essex traders. Romford Market, 1985. This boy has everything to learn.
Market Boy premiered at the Royal National Theatre on 27 May 2006 and is now coming to the tiny Union Theatre.
CAST AND CREATIVES
CAST: Claudia Archer, Michael Ayiotis, Helen Belbin, Mat Betteridge, Esmonde Cole, Lily Cooper, Joey Ellis, Drew Elston, Rachel Fenwick, Amy Gallagher, Taylor George, Callum Higgins, Jamie Hogarth, Tommy Knight, Grant Leat, Joe Mason, Forest Morgan, Georgina Seville, Katy Slater, Andy Umerah, Lucy Walker-Evans, Oliver Westlake.
Director – Nicky Allpress
Choreographer – Adam Haigh
Designer – Justin Williams
Lighting Designer – Alex Musgrave
By David Eldridge
16th April to 11th May 2019