Binge Fringe Magazine

REVIEW: Boy Out The City, Declan Bennett, EdFringe 2023 ★★★☆☆

Declan Bennett offers up his love-hate letter to city life, the way it changes the your perceptions of the world, how it shapes your upbringing, and the restraints and revelations it places on your Queer identity. Boy Out The City charts an autobiographical journey from the perspective of his confinement to a small village in Oxfordshire during the COVID-19 pandemic. Without the comfort of his boyfriend, who leaves for America to pursue his career. In the flutters of country life, Bennett soon uncovers that isolation will send his mind racing back through the years – growing up and suppressing his Queer identity in Coventry, moving to Soho and New York and finding himself, and then being unsure what kind of future he can handle.

A solo performance leads us through the deepest corners of Bennett’s life story with relentless speed and veracity. The fact that Bennett fits so much into the short run time can be both a strength and a hindrance. It allows for beautiful moments of transition and reflection such as when the name ‘Siobhan’ triggers Bennett back to his Irish Catholic upbringing and outgrowing his young female friends into a toxically masculine crowd. On the flipside, however, Bennett mentions how he survived the streets of New York yet never takes us to that moment. I imagine that this was a creative choice in cutting down the piece when it was being developed, but the references to New York often ring hollow and superfluous as an unaddressed part of the story.

Similarly the callings of London that Bennett addresses seem to be confined to the nightclubs of Soho, and while he talks of the freedom and release in this it feels as though we hear half the story of Bennett’s life – vignettes of his young adulthood rather than a complete picture. In contrast, the exploration of his troubled youth in Coventry and the suppression, resentment, release arc surrounding his queer identity offers a trove of personality, inquisitiveness and catharsis. This is expressed in Bennett through great cohesion in the rhythmic harmony between the semi-poetic script and Declan’s expressive body movement.

This is not strictly a movement piece by any stretch, but synchronicity in vignettes of movement-focused performance and then moments performed straight. Particularly effective moments that demonstrate this include when Declan takes to the denigration of his routine during lockdown, where he moves his arms in repetitive patterns to demonstrate daily tasks, while we watch alcohol sneak its’ way in and takeover. The discussion of the casualisation of addiction is especially profound, and a surprisingly underrepresented area which the show is not marketed on. The other major themes of toxic masculinity, loneliness, and queer identity find their feet but the breadth of topics explored means that each comes with a light touch rather than fervent discussion.

A long and physically intense section at the end takes place in a Soho nightclub-esque dreamspace that sees Declan unwind the traumatic undertones that have been bubbling under the surface throughout. From momentary lapses of the mind in the aisles of Hobbycraft, up to the sociopathic amount of banana bread that Declan cooks for his landlady, it’s clear that there will be a moment of puncture that taps into that emotive force. A wild release of pent-up feelings bursts onto the stage in full technicolour, as if Bennett is being inhabited by the most fervent and chaotic corners of himself for a brief moment. It is gorgeously performed, with relentless energy and rhythmic, twisting language. The poetic device embedded within the script is at its’ best in this instance, while throughout it feels a little bit disjointed from the story of the show.

It is inevitable that this story would be deeply personal, and its’ presentation is as revealing and tender as it is sharp and relentless. Bennett should be praised for taking on the enormity of topics, themes, and theatrical devices on display in Boy Out The City, but it doesn’t feel at all times as though these points link up in a way that is truly impactful. With reworking, and maybe a bit of a longer runtime, this piece could absolutely flourish among the best queer autobiographical works of the age. The story and motivation is there throughout, and now the opportunity to connect it to a more intrepid and deep-diving utterance of the show’s themes is needed.

Recommended Drink: Here’s a reference for you – hopefully something better than Declan’s post-lockdown Guinness on the Southbank!

Catch Boy Out The City at Underbelly Cowgate – Big Belly until August 27th (not the 14th or 21st) at 15:30. Tickets are available through the EdFringe Box Office.

Jake Mace

Our Lead Editor & Edinburgh Editor. Jake loves putting together novel-length reviews that try to heat-seek the essence of everything they watch. They are interested in New Writing, Literary Adaptations, Musicals, Cabaret, and Stand-Up. Jake aims to cover themes like Class, Nationality, Identity, Queerness, and AI/Automation.

Festivals: EdFringe (2018-2023), Brighton Fringe (2019), Paris Fringe (2020), VAULT Festival (2023), Prague Fringe (2023), Dundee Fringe (2023)
Pronouns: They/Them