Honestly, for someone who actually went and sat through the whole grinding ninety minutes of Magic Mike Live, I’m feeling more than a little awkward walking into the Above the Stag to see Boy Toy. The artwork doesn’t help. With the half-nakedness and very shiny pants. But that’s the Above the Stag for you. Shiny pants seem to be the default setting for their marketing.
In my defence, if a defence is required, I picked this show because it’s based on the ballet Coppélia, and I love Coppélia. Okay, I don’t love Coppélia. It’s a bit silly, even by ballet standards, and doesn’t have the genius of a choreographer like Ashton to elevate the silly story into silly art. But you know, it’s alright. I enjoy Coppélia, and watch it quite happily whenever it’s revived.
If you don’t know the story, and frankly, I can’t imagine you would, think Pygmalion. But the original one. As in, the Greek myth where a sculptor falls in love with a statue. But in Coppélia’s case, the statue is a mechanical doll, and it’s not the maker who goes falling in love, but a passing young man, who sees the doll in the window and decides that the porcelain princess is way hotter than the girl he has waiting for him at home. As you can imagine, the girl isn’t all that impressed by her boyfriend trying to get with a wind-up doll, and decides to get her own back on him. Chaos ensues but true love prevails. Eventually.
So, here I am to see William Spencer’s take on this ridiculous tale.
It’s pretty quiet. No nearly as busy as the last time I was here. There’s no one at the bar and most of the tables are empty. That’s what happens with a 7pm start in a studio space, I suppose. No one wants to be drinking that early on a Tuesday. Or perhaps everyone is still getting over Pride weekend. The Pride flags are still out in force outside the theatre, in a rainbow coloured bunting running out to the nearest tree.
I take up position on the end of the bar, the end with the huge TICKETS sign glowing above, and wait. Someone joins me and soon we are a nice little queue waiting for service.
It looks like the bar staff are having a meeting down the other end, but they spot us soon enough and one of them comes over.
I give my surname and he scrolls around on the touch screen in search of my booking. “Maxine?” he asks.
I confirm that I am indeed Maxine and soon my ticket is chugging on the little printer they have behind the bar. The one that spurts out soft paper, like a receipt. I rather like them.
“Oh, um,” I say, suddenly remembering something. “I think I ordered a-“
“Programme?” he says, completing the sentence for me. He grabs one from the display on the counter and hands it over.
That’s the kind of service I like. Providing the words that my brain can’t form in the moment.
With my programme and ticket, I set up shop at one of the posing tables and look around, taking in the theatre goers. And for once, the other theatre goers are also looking at me. I can’t blame them. It’s becoming increasing obvious that I am not the target audience for this show, being as I am, how shall I say this… a woman. Now, I don’t want to make any presumptions here, but I think I can safely say I have the only female presenting person in this bar right now.
I don’t think this has happened yet. I mean, yes - audiences have been heavily male at some shows. Not many. But some. There was that chemsex play at the Courtyard and ummm… no, I think that was it.
Outside, there’s a small group of people drinking beside the tree. And look - there’s a woman! But when the doors open and we start going through, the group stays outside. Whatever brought them to the Above the Stag tonight, it wasn’t a Coppélia retrelling.
I show my receipt paper to the ticket checker and he nods me through the door. Here, instead of turning right into the main space, we go left, into the studio.
As studios go, it’s not a bad stage. Long and thin, taking up almost the entire length of the space. If you’re going to put dance in a studio, this is the kind of space you want. Give the dancers a bit of room to leap around.
There’s only three rows of chairs, set up against the long wall.
I go for the back row.
I don’t want to be taking away any good seats from the core audience here. But as it turns out, the third row is pretty popular. It’s the second row that people are avoiding. No one likes being trapped in the middle.
A young man comes in and after testing out a few places in the bank of seats right on the end, comes over to me.
“Is any one…?” he asks, with a hand gesture that encapsulates the rest of the question.
“Oh, go for it,” I say, with a matching hand gesture.
The two of us, this young man and me, have to be the only people in the audience below the audience below the age of fifty. We are in serious middle aged white male territory here. It’s almost like being at the Royal Opera House.
The music that’s been filling the room comes to a sudden halt, and a man runs in from the foyer to manually set it up again before rushing back out into the foyer. Looks like the tech team are also on front of house duty tonight.
It’s past seven now. We should have already started. They must be holding the start for some latecomers.
I have a look at the programme. At only £2.50 it is quite the bargain. I mean, it’s not stuffed full of interesting articles or glossy photos, but it does the business, and is a nice enough souvenir. Even if it does have a typo on the first page. Seriously though, no judgement. I’ve done plenty worse in my programmes. And anyway, what do you want for £2.50? Especially for a studio theatre work. I sure as hell don’t make proper programmes for the stuff in the studio where I work. Audiences get freesheets and they’re grateful for it.
Surely we must be starting soon?
I put the programme away in readiness.
The tech person is still out in the hall.
Probably on the lookout for those latecomers. Bet they’re stuck on the Northern Line somewhere. What a fucking kerfuffle that was this morning. Our driver kept on telling us to get off, that despite all the announcements to the contrary, the train was going to be diverted to Charing Cross any moment, and then, as soon as we get to Camden, he blazes right through the Bank branch and I end up exactly where I want to be. Honestly, is it any wonder that Londoners cannot follow signage. We’re taught from our first day in this city that it’s all nonsense. It doesn’t take more than a month to find out that No Entry signs on the underground are nothing more than an indication that there’s a short cut happening nearby.
While we wait, I sit back and take in the set. It’s very simple. Three doorways, all lit up in neon. Rather effective in real life, but an absolute arse to capture effectively in a photo.
Finally, the tech person comes in and takes up his spot behind the desk in the corner.
Looks like we’re ready to begin.
The doorways flash in time with the beat.
Someone near me gives an appreciative snort.
Looks like we’re getting a dance of the flashing doorways. One could say it’s a… Pas de Door.
Oh, come on! That was a fucking fantastic pun and you know it. So, don’t you dare pull that face.
Well, funny or no, those doors are still dancing. Looks like we’re getting the full on overture. Seems a bit much considering the entire show is only an hour. You’d think the choreographer would want to use every second, but hey - I’m not a dance-maker. I’m sure there is some artistic reason for this very long intro.
Eventually, we get some dancers. And some rather fab punnage. I mean, not as good as mine. But nothing in the world is going to top Pas de Door this century. But we get our cast partying at the Gay Barre, before popping into Cocksta for their morning coffee, and then escaping Homo Sweet Homo for a rather balletic sex scene.
As for the doll… well, he’s a mannequin in a sex shop window, because of course he is.
But doesn't Saul Kilcullen-Jarvis look an absolute darling dressed up as the doll? With his little t-shirt and shiny shorts. Good on Andrew Beckett for making those designs happen. And, I mean... that is some great casting right there. I don't think I've ever seen someone how looks so like a Ken doll brought to life than this handsome fellow.
In fact, they are all darlings. I just want to pinch their collective cheeks.
Although perhaps not while they are in the midst of a dildo fight. That looks dangerous.
It is a shame that they're using the Delibes music though. Or at least, music based on the Delibes. I just can't imagine those jaunty tunes being played within the back room of a sex shop somehow. Not very sleazy Soho. Feels like a wasted opportunity when they could have had some proper club bangers for them to pirouette too. William Forsythe managed it in Playlist. Okay, he's Forsythe. Literally the greatest living choreographer. And the all-male cast of English National Ballet dancers was pretty spectacular. And they too looked darn cute in their costumes, matching red American football jerseys, with their surnames printed across the back. And yeah, it's true, Playlist 1, 2 ranks as perhaps the greatest piece of dance I've ever seen. So great I almost went to Paris to watch the follow-up works of Playlist 3, 4. But like, if I wanted to watch boys dancing around to a nineteenth-century ballet score, I'd book tickets to see the Trocks.
Oh well. Can't have everything, I suppose.
I got my puns. I should be content with that.
As the dancers give their final bows, someone sitting near me leans over to the person he's with. "Now, where else could we find high art like this?"
Still, we're just a short walk to Vauxhall station. Up over the bridge and there we are.
Not even that much past eight right now. I can pop into Tesco on my way home. Perhaps even shove some laundry in the machine, Need to finish that blog post on the Gielgud too... Oh god. So much for an early night.
As I stand on the platform, an announcement pumps through the speakers. "The Northern Line will close at 21.30 to allow our engineers to repair a fault. This means you should complete your journey before 21.30."
Fucking hell... Closing the Northern Line... as someone who both lives and works on the Northern Line, this week has been fucking brutal.
Thank the theatre gods for short plays and early starts. I may have had to sit through unnecessary Delibes, but at least I don't have to get the bus home afterwards.