Happy Birthday, Harold! In ‘The Boys in the Band’, written by Mart Crowley, a group of friends gather to celebrate the 42nd birthday of ‘Harold’ played by Mark Gatiss, some of the guests are invited while others are unexpected. The course of the evening is played out in this wickedly funny, and often touching, production which is directed by Adam Penford.
‘The Boys in the Band’ is set in a New York City apartment, adorned with kitsch movie posters, the first act introduces us to the characters in this all-male cast, and we begin to explore their relationships to each other and some of the tensions that exist. In the second act, the mood turns darker as the characters pasts start to encroach on the present. While the first act is characterised by humour, the second act is certainly not devoid of laughs but is definitely more intense.
Ian Hallard plays ‘Michael’, he steers the role through the turbulent evening, introducing the characters and themes. ‘Michael’ changes from genial host to self-loathing narcissist and Hallard makes this switch with a beautiful subtlety.
‘Harold’ played by Mark Gatiss is a fascinating character, a pseudo-celebrity within his own circle that we never fully get to understand. Gatiss is the perfect ‘Harold’; from his demeanour to the caustic comments, he takes the role and pushes it as hard as it can go.
Daniel Boys plays ‘Donald,’ he delivers the role with an understated confidence that manages to temper a production that could easily have become over-camp. Jack Derges plays ‘Cowboy’ which is a relatively small role in the whole piece, but Derges manages to prove he is not on stage just to show off his muscles.
The stand-out performance comes from James Holmes as ‘Emory,’ he flounces back and forth across the stage delivering acerbic one-liners and has the audience in the palm of his hand. Yet when he tells the story of his true love, that is both sad and touching, the whole theatre is mesmerised.
The Park Theatre allows the audience to feel like they are guests at the party. There is so much detail in the set and props that you easily become lost in the experience. ‘The Boys in the Band’ is both funny and emotional, exploring themes that are as relevant today as they were when it was first performed off-Broadway in 1968. Crowley’s play has often drawn criticism for indulging in stereotypes, but Adam Penfold’s production distracts from this by making the characters relatable.
It may well be Harold’s birthday, but ‘The Boys in the Band’ is a gift of a production for every audience member lucky enough to get a ticket.