The Boy Who Never Was – Dublin Theatre Festival – Review

The Boy Who Never Was – Dublin Theatre Festival – Review

Brokentalkers, Ireland – The Boy Who Never Was – An adaptation of the novel MOONSTONE by Sjón

Venue: Samuel Beckett Theatre
Preview(s): 12 Oct. 7.30pm
Date(s): 12 Oct. 7.30pm, 13-14 Oct. 7.30pm, 15 Oct. 2.30pm & 7.30pm, 16 Oct. 2.30pm

Máni Steinn was a young gay man living in Reykjavik in 1918. At the time, being homosexual was still illegal and it was a clandestine affair. His first love was film and his greatest joy in life was spending his days in the cinema. The pivotal event of the age was the arrival of the Spanish Flu pandemic from Europe which swept through the land, causing confusion, suffering and death.

The Boy Who Never Was” is a novella by Sjón which was published in 2016. While Sjón is not a household name in Ireland, the Icelandic poet and novelist was a one-time member of The Sugarcubes, where he performed as Johnny Triumph alongside singer Björk. He has published 14 novels to date, along with books of poetry, stage plays and other works.

There are four cast members on stage for the duration of this piece, with Matthew Malone, Maeve and Molly O’Mahony playing three artists and Konstantin Stanchev playing Máni. For those that know Brokentalkers, it should come as no surprise that this is not a straightforward adaptation of the novel. They’ve pulled it in many other directions, with metatheatrical happenings and discussions on the true meaning of the novel from the actors on stage. There is much visual trickery on display, with images and live video feeds of the actors projected onto screens. There is also impressive lighting (by Sinead Wallace) used to alter the mood and scene. Playful anachronisms are rife in this work, as movie references from 1918 are replaced with modern-day films. There are songs about homophobia and even Judge Dredd makes an appearance. This irreverence lightens the mood of the source material which is quite dark in nature.

The most unusual thing about this work is that Brokentalkers actually started it before our recent pandemic. The experience of living through a pandemic obviously altered the piece from its initial gestation in 2018.

This is the first adaptation Brokentalkers have carried out. Their work is often personal in nature or discusses uneasy parts of Irish history, such as The Blue Boy. The production is quite a step away from the original source material and fans of the book may be surprised by this mischievous adaptation, that uses metatheatrical devices to view the book through a modern lens. As they said in a recent interview, they are not a cover band! There is much to enjoy with the style of the production, which shows warmth and humour throughout along with its chilling storyline. It may inspire many to read the source material, with its haunting tale of life in Iceland, just over a hundred years ago.

Cast and Creative Team
Adapted and Directed by Feidlim Cannon and Gary Keegan
Creative Producer: Rachel Bergin
Dramaturgy: Bjarni Jonsson
Movement Direction: Eddie Kay
Costume Design: Sarah Foley
Set Design: Ellen Kirk
Composition: Valgeir Sigurðsson
Lighting Design: Sinead Wallace
Cast: Matthew Malone, Maeve O’Mahony, Molly O’Mahony, Konstantin Stanchev


Categories: Header, Theatre, Theatre Review

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