By Isabella Fraser
The studio theatre at Spotlites’ Merchants’ Hall venue is an intimate space that perfectly suits this one-man show. The simple, compact staging area serves to highlight the confidential nature of this piece as Declan Perring, a physically engaging and emotionally compelling Martin Hall, arrives like a whirlwind on stage.
Kat Woods’ sparse set and carefully crafted direction allows Perring the freedom to draw the audience into his world as the true-life story of Hall, a ‘Belfast Boy’, unfolds. While the troubles are briefly mentioned, this is not just another Irish tale of factions fighting: this fight is about a man trying to retain his life, despite his past.
From a background such as Hall’s, it would have been easy to fall into the trap of emphasising the dramas that had surrounded him and taking a bleak perspective on his story. It is to Woods’s credit therefore that her writing depicts a character who is not quite off-the-rails but yet not quite clean-cut: this piece shows a complex human being in all his glory. This allows a surprising – but welcome – amount of humour to flow throughout as Perring charms the audience from the very beginning with a warm, cheeky, full-on storyteller who cannot stop talking.
Tales of childhood mischief and diva behaviour are physicalised to full comic effect with seamless morphing into different characters from Hall’s life, aided by minimal light changes. With hints of something hidden underneath, the unveiling of the root of Hall’s pain becomes all the more poignant when the laughter stops and the truth is revealed. At times the honesty of the portrayal is difficult to watch but impossible to ignore.
It came as no surprise that, despite being early in the run, there was a packed house for this play.
Belfast Boy runs until 25 August at Spotlites @ The Merchants’ Hall at 18.05. Running time is 1 hour.