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March 8, 2004 | by  | in Theatre |
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Golden Boys

Sometimes bleak, sometimes darkly humorous, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, Golden Boys acrobatically treads the fine line between profundity and wankiness.

At its heart, Golden Boys is, in fact, deeply depressing. In 1986, 12-year-old Keith Craig is brutally murdered, his body hidden in foliage in an industrial area outside of Christchurch. As the years progress, three boys live out their lives in the constant shadow of Keith’s death. The theme, here, is child death, but not always in a literal fashion. For Kieran, Stefan and Crispin, Keith’s death is less a tragic event than a heralding of their own imminent transition into adulthood, which the living characters cannot escape. This is reserved for Keith. Eerily lit (in a play which is uniformly extremely effectively lit by Brad Knewstubb) in an appearance from beyond the grave, Keith greets the audience in the play’s final moments. “Remember me?” He asks. “I come from desire”.

Despite its less-than-uplifting message, Golden Boys escapes self-conscious drama hell through well-timed comic relief. The opening night audience roared at the Kiwi vernacular slotted seamlessly into the generally eloquent script: On beginning filming on a new children’s variety show, Kieran is asked pressingly if he’s “Had a pash? Had a root?” while on the playground Crispin heralds, “My Dad’ll bash your Dad. He’d bash your Mum but he can’t cos she’s a handie.” The variety show, which boasts a hilarious dance sequence to ‘Walking on Sunshine’ – a suitably ironic choice –, is hosted by an unseen Tina Cross and the TV reporter sounds strikingly like Dougal Stevenson. Even better, Golden Boys is tongue-in-cheek about the very nature of its expression. The director of Kieran’s TV movie is deliberately stereotypical. Camp, gesticulatory and concerned with his “vision”, he is constantly battling with his producer, scoffing at one point, “Apparently we can’t construct the truth!”

Or can they? Golden Boys has eight speaking roles, shared between three actors. The standout is Robin Hall, equally convincing and compelling both as Crispin and the director. Also strong is Charlie McDermott, though lack of definition in his characterization sometimes makes the play’s loose narrative harder to follow. The weakest acting link is writer Paul Rothwell, though much of this can certainly be attributed to the fact that he stepped onto the stage barely a week before his play’s opening when an actor pulled out at the last minute.

Powerfully scripted, directed and lit, on its opening night Golden Boys seemed a little sluggish until about 15 minutes in. The digital projector, whirring away noisily in this small theatre, was an unnecessary distraction – most of the images were lost on BATS’s paneled rear wall, anyway. Once it took off, however, the play was entertaining and moving, if somewhat pessimistic. The last line of the play – in which Crispin realizes that the sinister man in his dreams is in fact his adult self – sent a collective shiver through the audience and caused them to pause before their final applause, always an indicator that a crowd has been impressed.

By Paul Rothwell
Directed by Kip Chapman
BATS until February 26th

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