One man is all it takes. No fuss, no frills. When Martin Hall is faced with a silent, empty space to talk to, his memories finally run free.
Perring will tear you from laughter to tears and back from one moment to another.
Meet Martin: I dare say you would be pleased to. The buoyant Belfaster, one of eleven children and a professional dancer is all wisecracks and grins when he sits down to his first appointment with a psychiatrist. Keen on taking pills to put an end to his sleepless nights, Martin’s GP has sent him to talk through the causes of his insomnia instead. Yet Martin can’t pinpoint a particular problem and embarks on a humorous, theatrical account of his life up until this point instead. It is when he is prompted to pick at some darker memories that smiles quiver and he plunges the audience into the nightmarish experiences that lie beneath. We bear witness to the touching bravery of a vulnerable young man who, despite his fraught past, is able to summon up the courage to pursue life with optimism and zeal.
Belfast Boy touches on the trauma of The Troubles for both sides involved through anecdote, as well as examining attitudes towards homosexuality. Between a sick mother, a distant father and brothers drawn in by the Ulster Volunteer Force, Martin’s family is forced to flee to England where he undergoes the difficult status of being Northern Irish in England, denied his identification as British in the classroom. These wider political forces are touched upon, but resist the temptation of falling into trope. Spectre-like, they remain palpable throughout the show. A wealth of complex, frustrated political and emotional themes are conveyed with a subtlety and understatement which confirm the excellence of Woods’ writing.
Declan Perring confidently takes on the challenge of performing a one-man show, engaging the audience from the very first minutes and holding our attention for the full hour. He does not just relate memories back to us but enacts each of them, dynamically playing an impressive assortment of characters ranging from young children to his sickly mother via policemen and drugged-up youths. Perring is a brilliant, highly talented actor who creates an immersive theatrical experience with barely a prop to help him along the way.
The premise is simple yet effective, touching on the stigma so often associated with those suffering from mental health issues. The decision for the performance to be a one-man show in which the psychiatrist is physically absent emphasises the idea that it is the simple act of speaking, of telling one’s story that allows a release of pent-up emotion and traumatic memories. There is no buffer between the audience and Martin, making his confessional narrative all the more effective.
Belfast Boy brings a whole life experience into the room. Perring will tear you from laughter to tears and back from one moment to another. The story is spine-tingling. Eyes glimmer with tears in the dark as the performance comes to a close.