Saturday 20th August 2022 at the Hen & Chickens Theatre, London
Reviewer: Emma Dorfman
An all-too-familiar subject matter plops into a post-dramatic structure, giving birth to Gabriel Phelan’s Glass Boy. Tight performances, direction, sound design, and choreography ensure that Glass Boy leaves an impression long after you have left the theatre.
Being a one-person show about the effect of toxic masculine influences on young men, Glass Boy demands 150% energy 100% of the time, and Gabriel Phelan delivers. The content, as you can imagine, demands what I would best describe as over-the-top, macho screaming moments, and this performer never relents. Whilst this would usually alienate an audience (oh no, not another white man screaming play), in this play, it delivers the total effect of the piece. There are moments of rage that are called for, and there are moments of rage that are uncalled for. And Phelan’s writing and performance signals this distinction using offstage, toxic influences and his own character, trying to make sense and adapt to his harmful environs.
In other moments, Phelan makes use of inanimate objects as scene partners. At one point, for instance, he discusses the idea of growth, growing, adapting, and changing, with a potted plant. These moments are delightful, comedic, and inch closer and closer to proposing solutions for the character’s problem. And what is his main problem? As far as I can tell, it’s simply being able to cope and exist in an environment he feels isn’t made for someone like him.
While this inner conflict certainly has room to expand, Phelan, and his director, Ruby Phelan, show the conflict without words via sharply choreographed movement sequences. At times, this choreography approached what some might call a GCSE Drama aesthetic. However, as the vocabulary and genre of the piece was established further, I fully realised the effectiveness of these interludes. I would definitely categorize Glass Boy as an issue play, and whilst Phelan struggles to convey the issue through words, he certainly succeeds through movement and music.
On the other hand, these devices also threaten to confuse the genre further. Is it whimsical comedy? Dark comedy? Classic drama? I don’t particularly mind what it is; this is fringe theatre, after all. These moments that define Glass Boy’s particular genre, however, can and should be leaned into further to arrive fully at the show’s core message.
Glass Boy has now completed its run at the Hen and Chickens Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe, but you can check out further Camden Fringe listings here.