By CHRISTOPHER WALKER
Soho Boy at the Drayton Arms Theatre packs an enormous amount into just 50 minutes. It’s quite a debut for the young performer, Owen Dennis, and a tribute to Paul Emelion Daly’s continuing mission to give voice to the gay community’s experiences. I even came out humming one of the tunes.
The Drayton Arms Theatre has a long pedigree. The first theatrical use of the space was just after the war as a rehearsal room for many of the actors from the newly formed BBC TV.
In the 1980s it became a theatre for students of the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art before it was upgraded in 2010 and became a professional fringe venue. An intimate space, it is a much-needed theatrical oasis in the desert of South Kensington/Earl’s Court.
The current offering is something quite unique. A one man, one act, musical which has particular appeal for the LGBT community.
The plot has obvious resonances for that community. Young, trendy Spencer leaves home and hits Soho. His age is unspecified, but judging how green he is, it seems highly likely he is just 18. Certainly he still believes in love at first sight, and has yet to realize that the good looking ones are often not the best choice as a partner. The exceptions you marry.
Spencer works in a clothing store and lives alone in a small studio flat. Somewhat unlikely given the level of modern London rents, but then this is very much a one man show.
Owen Dennis gives a bravura performance in a very demanding role. He has to act, sing, and dance while pulling off a series of often bizarre costume changes. Everything from fetish gear to drag.
For a debut performance it is quite a feat, and a tribute to the training of London’s Italia Conti Academy. It will be interesting to watch him as he grows.
Paul Emelion Daly is the writer, whose work is focused on the LGBT community. He is best known on the fringe for his hit When Harry met Barry, and it is quite something that he can turn his hand to musical composition as well as drama.
He tells me “From the moment I came up with the idea, I wanted to challenge myself to write a gay, one man musical. I don’t believe that’s been done before and the subject matter lends itself to be musicalised. Originally, I started the piece as a song cycle. But dramatically I started to open it up with dialogue.”
Spencer ends up busking before being picked to sing in a nightclub. He certainly has an eventful time.
Paul said: “The cabaret element is my personal journey and I wanted to highlight that to a younger audience. I don’t want that genre to be forgotten. I also wanted Spencer to parallel to the tragic status world of Piaf.”
Paul was also determined to make Soho Boy relevant to a younger audience.
He said: “I really do believe that SB has elements to all young gay men today. Move to London, meet guys, sex, night life while trying to work on their dreams. And it will always be like that.”
Although this is largely a romantic comedy, Spencer does stumble upon the darker side of the gay world. The author says “chemsex is a huge issue and not spoken about much in London. I’ve had to research that element for the piece, and I know guys who have been really affected by it.”
For an open-minded glimpse of young gay London – https://www.thedraytonarmstheatre.co.uk/soho-boy