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BWW Review: THE BOYS IN THE BAND, Vaudeville Theatre

Following a stint at London's Park Theatre and a UK tour, the revival production of Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band has a brief run on the West End; it takes over from Dead Funny in the Vaudeville prior to Stepping Out. Revolutionary when it first premièred on Broadway in 1968, it still has the potential to shock today - making its presence more important than ever.

Michael has organised a birthday party for Harold, taking care with his guest list so it's all to Harold's liking. Inevitably, things go awry straightaway and steadily descend into chaos. The most disruptive element comes in the form of Michael's old (straight) college roommate, Alan, as his presence allows the group to see Michael's attitude to his own sexuality through Alan's violent discomfort in a room full of gay men. The script is darkly comic - there are plenty of laughs to be had, as well as gasps for good measure.

Rebecca Brower's set is a simple design of a New York apartment comprising two levels; director Adam Penford makes clever use of the space, particularly with some sections of dialogue that flick between the background and foreground, as well as utilising the extra height that's available. The surroundings are not quite as intimate as those previously seen by this production, but it seems to stand up well to the challenge of a larger auditorium.

It truly is the definition of an ensemble piece, with great talent from stage and screen on show. James Holmes as Emory provides much of the outwardly camp comedy, whilst Mark Gatiss makes late acerbic impact as the perenially unpunctual Harold - both scene-stealers in their own rights. There are also some touching moments, perhaps shown best of all in Larry (Ben Mansfield) and Hank's (Nathan Nolan) development, as they decide to be honest with one another and try to have more understanding in their relationship.

Ian Hallard leads well as Michael, whose persona unravels over the course of the evening - it is an interesting and surprising direction, in spite of some early indicators. Hallard handles this effortlessly; though his character becomes less likeable he manages to remain compelling throughout. His repartee with Daniel Boys as Donald is always entertaining, and softens him when his tongue starts to get too sharp.

It is a shame that its West End residency is so short, as its stellar ensemble could keep audiences entertained for weeks on end. Not only is it entertaining, but it's also thought-provoking. In the beginning it truly is the calm before the storm - but as with everything in nature something has to give, and it's fascinating to watch that unfold in a theatrical setting.

The Boys in The Band is at Vaudeville Theatre until 18 February

Picture credit: Darren Bell

Read our interview with Ian Hallard

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