This review was originally written for The Public Reviews.
Boy is a one-man musical performance written and performed by Séan Kennedy. It details his journey through life as a child in a family where domestic violence was the norm, which ultimately led to a troubled upbringing. This journey is laid out in chronological order with Kennedy indicating his age when specific events occurred and regaling the audience with anecdotes and real life horror stories from his life. Then the magic begins. Accompanied by four musicians (Thomas Kehoe- piano, Chris Moriarty Pearson- clarinet, David Thornton- violin, Edel O’Donnell- cello) Kennedy commences the first of many musical pieces, each following in the theme of what he has just been relaying to the audience. These beautiful pieces, mostly arias, are performed with passion as Kennedy’s tenor tones fill the black box studio space. After each song, the story of Boy continues as he gets older and has bigger decisions to make for his safety and that of his beloved sister.
The Black Box at Smock Alley is utilised in a perfunctory way (set/lighting by Hanna Bowe), with musicians to stage right and both upstage and stage left being walled with industrial style steel shelving. On these shelves are artefacts of life, which Kennedy uses to illustrate his tale and which reflect his experiences. His sister’s pink dressing gown. His mother’s coat. The coffee cups and percolator. Indeed, the harshness of the steel shelves oddly complements the tenderness of the story, which is a juxtaposition that is used repeatedly throughout the performance.
The vocal brilliance of this piece, as well as the very pleasing aesthetics, is unfortunately not matched by the story itself. Personable at best, Boy feels self-indulgent in places and puts the audience under emotional blackmail rather than just tugging on the heart strings. The main issue is the constant vacillation between emotions which, rather than taking the audience on a rollercoaster ride, makes it difficult to emotionally invest in the piece. Clearly, this is a difficult topic and is an emotive piece for everyone, not least of all Kennedy, who created Boy based on his own experiences. For a short, one man piece there are perhaps too many ups and downs. Despite this issue, Kennedy gives a superb vocal performance with his stunning and utterly convincing rendition of various classic arias as well as some more modern pieces, which is what truly holds Boy together. His personable way of being however does feel genuine. Perhaps this is not surprising, given that Kennedy states he finds singing cathartic, and he certainly shines brightest when he hits those notes.
Writer: Séan Kennedy
Musical Director: Thomas Kehoe
Photo courtesy of the Tiger Dublin Fringe
Runs until September 19th as part of the Tiger Dublin Fringe