Review: BOYS ON THE VERGE OF TEARS, Soho Theatre

The 2022 Verity Bargate Award premieres at Soho Theatre

By: Apr. 19, 2024
Review: BOYS ON THE VERGE OF TEARS, Soho Theatre
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Review: BOYS ON THE VERGE OF TEARS, Soho Theatre

Piss-stained, hairy, bloody: A series of vignettes are played across a decrepit men’s bathroom, each tracing a stage in male life. It blooms gently into a collage framing modern manhood: where it comes from, how it bubbles and boils, and where it ends.

Just as bathrooms are places of vulnerability they are also refuges where men withdraw, remove their masks, and look at masculinity squarely in the eye through the reflection of a grime-stained mirror. Boys on the Verge of Tears, winner of the 2022 Verity Bargate Award, is a slick barrage of uppercuts; wickedly witty and dizzyingly dangerous, but a heartfelt core tenderly pulsates beneath.

We start with a father lovingly instructing his petulant toddler how to use the toilet. Snap to tweens electrified by the thought of asking for a girls’ number at a school disco. Snap to teenagers gleefully planning a clandestine party, trading vinegary insults that teeter between camaraderie and cruelty. Casual sexism rots into gut punch nastiness.

As testosterone sinks its teeth deeper, the grim logic twists to breaking point. One of the schoolboys hazily recounts an anecdote of sexual assault masked as carnal triumph. The logical conclusion is violence. The next scene explodes with a warcry: a man crashes in, smashes against a cubicle, blood gushing from his face, techno blasting from the club on the other side of the door. Others swan in and out. Will they even notice him? Listen to him? Help him?

James Macdonald’s dextrous direction manipulates the writings’ heart-wrenching fluctuations between brutality and sensitivity, drawing out the darkness to make the fleeting moments of light shine brighter. The smallest gesture of kindness echoes loud. It’s thrilling and disarming in equal measure. The five strong cast multirole as a carousel of fifty characters, each psychological icebergs: we meet them only too briefly but can sense the depth beneath each surface.

Perhaps it’s MacDonald’s influence but it feels like a call back to the Royal Court’s mid noughties heyday in the way it brutally exposes our primal anxieties. This is the kind of production that reaches out and grabs the audience by the collar, undecided if it wants to let us wriggle free or knuckle us in the face.

Review: BOYS ON THE VERGE OF TEARS, Soho Theatre

Some of the tensions examined lead to predictable places: repressed sexuality as the consequence of stiff upper lip bravado is an inevitable path to tread. But the final vignette, is where the play is most self-reflectively sentimental. A stepfather pants in pain as he changes his colostomy bag, pouring his heart out to a step-son. Shuddering with awkwardness but compelled to help, he clutches a plastic bag full of bile and shit. Love and guts in the lavatory.

Don’t underestimate Sam Grabiner’s professional playwrighting debut. This is no tacky riposte to Andrew Tate ultra-toxicity. It stands on its own two feet, a cathartic and powerful moment, a veinous fist unclenching. What astonishingly mature writing. I can’t wait to see more from him.

Boys of the verge of Tears plays at Soho Theatre until 18 May

Photo Credits: Marc Brenner


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