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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Market Boy
Olivier Theatre Summer 2006

David Eldridge's new play is a big-spirited celebration of life and of theatre itself. Expansive, colourful, open-hearted and openly theatrical, it may be the most purely entertaining show the National Theatre has put on in years.

It has an ostensible plot - in the mid-1980s a teenager gets a job in Romford street market, gets to know the tricks of the trade and the other members of the market community, has some ups and downs, and eventually moves on - but that's the least important or interesting part of the play. 

There's some social comment - prospering in the Thatcher economic boom, the working class traders all become enthusiastic Tories, only to be hit hardest when the bubble bursts.

But mainly there's a loving and celebratory portrait of a thriving community, presented in a series of set pieces that Eldridge and director Rufus Norris turn into theatrical delights.

There's the tightly choreographed dance of setting up the stalls and a comic parade of the top ten customer types, later mirrored in a girl's catalogue of the top ten dirty-old-man types. The market boss offers a potted history of the market since the days of Boudica while casually accepting backhanders from the stall owners to leave them alone.

In one set piece the stall owners take turns recounting the market Lothario's amorous adventures in the back of his van; in another we see two unlikely but equally sweet love scenes played out by a younger and an older couple.

A butcher's praise of his wares morphs into an aria joying in the go-go affluence, while an LSD trip somehow involves Margaret Thatcher and a giant lobster.

On one level this is really a community theatre pageant overproduced to the extreme. But bringing of all the National Theatre's technical resources to such simple material doesn't overwhelm it - it elevates it and adds to the sense of frolicking celebration.

Along with director Norris, credit must go to designers Katrina Lindsay and Harriet Barsby,  and choreographers Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, for keeping the visuals so bright and the energy level so high.

Danny Worters plays the boy with amiable openness, and in a large cast of doubling and redoubling roles you'll pick out Gary McDonald, Jade Williams, Ruth Sheen, John Marquez and Jemma Walker.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Market Boy - National 2006