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Saturday, May 01, 2010

Dirty White Boy, Trafalgar Studios

Last night, I went to see Dirty White Boy at Trafalgar Studios on Whitehall. It's a play that was a book that was a blog which chronicled life in a shop on the corner of Old Compton Street and Dean Street, just underneath a brothel with a leaky floor. It's performed by the shopkeeper-cum-blogger Clayton Littlewood himself, with David Benson performing all the character roles and a slightly superfluous topless boy who doesn't actually seem to have a place in the story apart from padding it out with some singing and showing off his pubes, yet is given the central spot on all the publicity.

There's a lot of charm in the story and there's some really quite poignant moments in the play, with David Benson shapeshifting through a range of what border on stereotypes of Soho denizens to give a rose-tinted view of what is, quite clearly, a bit of a grubby life. At first, it's awkward watching the blogger tell his own story, and his lack of training as a performer shows; he got the giggles a few times during the show, but actually these moments where you were reminded that, for him, it wasn't a play, it was his story, were quite charming.

I felt a little sorry for the third performer, who would sing to punctuate scene changes and was used to portray younger background characters than the older two, but I don't think he was well-used. There were only a couple of songs where he wasn't having to stretch to reach for the notes because they'd not been transposed and, really, as a device it quickly became tired. When he was being used to portray escorts, immediately the part of me that spent a lot of time with sex workers kicked in and I was making judgements about who'd be paying how much for him to do what with them, which weren't quite being upheld. If the script's saying the escort's known for his monster cock, maybe more flattering trousers might be an idea?

A shame; I'm sure he's a great performer, but as a walk-on bit of colour, he could have been replaced more effectively by a lamp without the story suffering at all for his disappearance from the script.

I suppose that's the thing with the whole piece; I don't know that it's translated well from screen to page to stage. The fact it ended with an advert for the book was quite telling - perhaps that's all the whole thing was, a taster session for a book that costs far less than a ticket for this, and hopefully is a lot more satisfying.

Don't get me wrong, there was a lot to like about it, Clayton Littlewood was really sweet and David Benson made me almost believe in the Polari-speaking queen and the crass transsexual's jokes at her own expense came off with considerable dignity, and it's worth seeing for those two. The affection they seem to have for each other is clear - you can see that David Benson filmed the looped shots of the shop because he kept filming himself in the reflection of the shop window years ago when Clayton still ran the shop.

Go if you want to learn lots of tender-hearted history of Soho and its people. Go if you'll let a cute treasure trail forgive reaching for the "know" in "Do you kno-o-OW where you're going to?" in Mahogany. Go if you want to see a chameleon who left me wanting to see more of his performances. Go if you want to see alarming honesty on stage from someone telling his own story.

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