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Review of Market Boy by The Royal & Derngate Actors Company at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

I have now written a little over two hundred and fifty reviews on this blog (yes I know, amazing. I am sorry). Most shows I have enjoyed, many I have given four star reviews, a good number have also got that lofty five stars from me. There is however hiding among them five star reviews, another tier of brilliance. One that lies in my head, where everything comes together to go beyond that five, but where I have nothing left to give. The play, the performances, the staging, and perhaps even more to elevate what is a personal opinion as a review, an actual personal emotional feeling or connection towards the piece.
Featured: Boy (Tom Cocker), Trader (Greg Dallas) and Mum (Helen Gibb)
Market Boy written by David Eldridge and performed by the Royal & Derngate Actors Company will (spoiler intended) receive five stars from me at the end of this review. However as that first paragraph suggests, this was one of those that went a little further for me. Set in what I happily claim as my decade and featuring throughout the music of that decade, which I claim as my own so called soundtrack of my life, Market Boy charts the rise and eventual fall of Thatcher Britain as experienced on Romford market through the eyes and lives of many larger than life traders. It is crude and extremely rude, much like a previous play, Days Of Significance, that I wholeheartedly rubbished a few months back, so whats the difference? Well Eldridge's script makes the important decision to actually make you like the characters within it, unlike Significance's characters, who are just horrible. Also while this is a very sweary play (and apparently one that made a number of audience members leave), every F and dreaded C somehow feels right, not only for the setting, but for the comedy effect. This is not lazy usage, this is clever and appropriate.
Tom Cocker as Boy
At the centre of the action is the Market Boy himself, played with superb progression by Tom Cocker. From the moment of his arrival in front of the safety curtain at the start of the production; ushered and cajoled by his Mum (a great little performance from Helen Gibb) into getting a job on the markets shoe stall, we visibly see Tom Cocker grow the character. At the start he is a brilliantly awkward teenager and into the second half, through his performance, we see him not only feel an older character, but also visible appear one as the years pass and his characters aggression takes hold. I have rarely seen a performance that travels with such clarity through a number of years, over the duration of a play.

His boss known as Trader is played with also a commanding and leering presence by Greg Dallas, all cocksure and certain to get the ladies into and promptly out of his stalls flash shoes for some activities in the back of his van. He is a typical larger than life trader, but one you can genuinely believe in, even if at times it gets a little like a swearing Only Fools And Horse situation.
Tom Cocker as Boy and Greg Dallas as Trader and cast.
Fellow shoe stall traders Don (Davin Eadie), Jason (Mark Yoxon) and Snooks (Ben Webb) are all also brilliantly created by the actors, with Ben in particular strong as the trader turned yuppy, up on his luck and as history then dictates, down on it. Great fun is made of his commonness, just in the way he uniquely says Porsche and Champagne.

Other standout performances in a universally brilliant cast are Alice McCracken as Boy's love interest, known simply as Girl. A captivating turn, full of high emotion and a genuinely classy performance delivering real tears in the sad final scenes, often beyond many professional performers. Will Adams is not only perfectly cast, but also really quite brilliant as the Meat Man, perhaps given three of the best received scenes on the night from the audience; with a simple stage re-entry to observe the treatment of his poultry; to a brilliant timed "Ah Bisto" moment; and finally perhaps one of the best moments in the play, the Churchillian speech, delivered impeccably.
Centre: Steve While as Nut-Nut and cast.
I loved Zoe Smith's interpretation of Thatcher and her reappearance during an acid trip will live long in the memory of individual theatre scenes. Sue Whyte's transforming Fish Woman is brilliantly and crudely delivered, with much more than a hint of relish, as is Vicky Kelly as Fat Annie and her lascivious attempts to make a man of Boy, portrayed in more than the very crudest of ways.

Stewart Magrath is an impossibly scary presence as The Toby, ruling the market with an iron fist and wielding his hammer with more than a hint of menace. His first appearance through the stalls and through our location of the front row, did really have its scary moments.
Featured: Ben Webb as Snooks and Tom Cocker as Boy, with cast.
I could effortlessly go on through the cast, as this without question had the strongest collection of amateur performances that I have yet seen. All of them brought something to proceedings, and perhaps not always seen every member of the large cast not only had lines, but real characters within them.

Director Jesse Jones also added an impressive amount of flair to the piece, using every space in the Royal, from front of curtain, to boxes, to aisles and in one case a deafening loud haler speech from the circle. The curtain rising to a ensemble performance to the strains of Frankie's Relax set the tone for a brilliant evening of comedy, drama and music. There was a simple but very effective set design from Meryl Couper, along with some nice use of lighting from Jonathan Designer, particularly prevalent during that Thatcher scene already alluded to above.

So yes, the amateurs of the Actors Company have produced a professional production, more enjoyable than any I have seen this year. Not only the best amateur show I have seen, but one of the top shows I have seen ever, with that something else factor. Bringing through it's brilliantly written script, a perfectly pitched historic time and place and a cast and production team of skill and dedication above and beyond many professional shows, a piece of theatre that I truly never will forget and one I so wish I had seen a second time. Simply brilliant in every way.

★★★★★

Performance reviewed: Saturday 23rd July, 2016 at the Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton.

Market Boy by the Royal & Derngate Actors Company was performed between Friday 22nd and Saturday 23rd July, 2016

For further details about the Royal & Derngate visit their website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/


(Photos: Graeme Braidwood)
Featured: Tom Cocker as Boy and Greg Dallas as Trader
Featured: Jo Watts as Spanish Girl
Greg Dallas as Trader and Tom Cocker as Boy

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