Reviews/Fringe World Festival/Musical Theatre

Lost generation struggles to be heard

21 January 2021

Jonathan W. Marshall suspects there’s good musical theatre potential in a boy wanted to, but says it’s still finding its rhythm.

a boy wanted to, Mumble Productions ·
State Theatre Centre, 20 January, 2021 ·

a boy wanted to is a new work of contemporary Broadway-style musical theatre from emerging artist Taylor Broadley. It episodically depicts a school boycott and online protest following the Columbine school shootings in the US (or an event very like it).

Creating a piece around what is essentially a waiting game is tricky, and the show is still finding its rhythm.

While there are some peaks and troughs, it mostly rolls along at a good if not very energetic level until the standout scene, where the recorded music track is jettisoned and Jarvys McQueen-Mason presents a nervy and powerful performance-poetry monologue in the role of the killer. He, too, is a victim of sorts, a product of a blighted society and generation.

Elsewhere, however, the production needs work. Despite the small, intimate venue, cast members depend on radio microphones. The State Theatre Centre’s Rehearsal Room is a nice black-box studio, but it does sound no favours. On opening night there were squeals of feedback as well as moments when microphones were off, while the pre-recorded music was sometimes too loud or quiet. The cast have fine voices, but several struggle to project in the lower register – something the content often requires. Presumably sound will improve as runs proceed.

Rather than blame the sound technicians, I suspect the real issue is more the recital-style presentation and overall concept. This production has the potential to resonate with our Covid lockdown experiences, and that paradoxical sense that communicating from home via computer is at once intimate, close, raw and personal, but also lonely and alienating. The libretto hints at this, and several songs are confessional-style ballads, including one on the common youth experience of suicidal ideation.

But the lessons offered by exemplary local digital theatre makers such as Last Great Hunt have not been applied. The on-stage prop laptops are never turned on. A screen is mounted behind the stage, but no close-ups or simulated computer screen perspectives are projected. The online exchanges are therefore only mimed, while elsewhere actors sit or move (often clumsily) over scattered mattresses.

The piece was originally written for film, and one could imagine this as a series of really good YouTube clips. But as live theatre, it is spatially unexciting and almost as distant as our characters feel.

There is a good piece of musical theatre hidden in this piece, but – at least on opening night – it has yet to be presented.

a boy wanted to runs in the State Theatre Centre Rehearsal Room until Saturday, 23 January, 2021.

Pictured top: American teenagers stage an online gun law protest from their bedrooms in ‘a boy wanted to’. Photo: Perfectly Picturesque Photography

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Author —
Jonathan W. Marshall

Associate Professor Jonathan W. Marshall is postgraduate coordinator at WAAPA, Edith Cowan University. Jonathan has written for RealTime Australia, Big Issue, The Age, Theatreview NZ, IN Press, and presented on radio, since 1992. He grew up beside the Yarra River, near a long metal slide, set into the side of a rocky slope.

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