A heady combination of toxic masculinity, guilt, and politics, but a lack of focus and emotional cohesion strips this diatribe of its fangs.
Despite a consistent emphasis on mystique, Boy with a Rainbow Umbrella doesn’t aim to surprise you. All of the play’s moving pieces are laid bare before you – two men, Jay & Adrian, one gay, one straight. The topic – a law that allows murder to become manslaughter, under discriminatory circumstances – means one can only expect there will be death. The introduction, delivered as a cutting parody of the ‘fabulous gay’ trope, hands you an early denouement, before leading you into a relationship drama heavy with guilt, bitterness, and trauma.
While the two actors present do an admirable job, they disappointingly both play to trope – the caustically flamboyant Jay orbits around the dull, masculine, Adrian, desperately spitting venom, emulating pre-existing hierarchies of power. Throwaway lines such as Adrian’s repetition that he “doesn’t have a closet” and “this is Anywhere, it’s art!” feel self-congratulatory rather than comedic and there’s little evolution of theme or character – attempts at such are overloaded with bitterness-tinged gravitas that quickly become tiresome, whilst particularly acidic and biting exchanges jarringly collapse into intimacy within seconds. Potentially touching moments of emotional discomfort eventually come as you experience the relationship’s slow disintegration, but by this point it’s too late to empathize. The finale – graceful, dance-like, beautiful to watch – is just that, a finale, coming far too late in the proceedings to invest any meaning.
The titular rainbow umbrella comes to take the status of a quasi-religious icon, appearing when needed to heighten key moments of tension, reinforcing that the work’s strength lies in its imagery – artfully constructed colour schemes dictating the personalities and subtler themes at work – but otherwise usage of the space feels deeply mismanaged, considering the miniscule dimensions granted by a single basement room. Interaction between actor and audience invites, rather than a sense of claustrophobia or tension, only frustration, exacerbated by the work’s length. Lighting and sound are well executed and paced, but only serve to make the otherwise excruciating lack of space tolerable.
Reviewed by Jason Lomas
This review is based on the reviewer’s experience of the performance on May 13.