Five boys enter a public toilet. Sounds like a set-up waiting for a punchline. There are plenty of jokes in this play but there’s more than meets the eye, bubbling underneath the surface.

“Boys on the Verge of Tears” follows several male characters of different ages, waltzing in and out of cubicles. You watch them grow from clumsy little boys to cocky teenagers, angsty adults and regretful older gents. The incredibly talented and versatile cast (Matthew Beard, David Carlyle, Calvin Demba, Tom Espiner and Maanuv Thiara) successfully embodies manhood in all these nuances.

Writer Sam Grabiner strikes the perfect chord: within the first half hour, he has his audience laughing with scenes of men’s proverbial poor toilet etiquette and genitalia obsession played by the adult cast acting as kids and teens. It’s funny but never surreal. He then subtly shifts the gear towards more serious issues like violence, anger management, substance abuse and relationships with females and femininity. There’s something unsettling about these men playing with knives, calling each other mate but always ready to pounce to hide their flaws and insecurities. And then carrying on, like nothing happened. Letting other people clean up their mess.

I can’t think of a more suitable setting for this play; the public toilets (very realistically designed by Ashley Martin-Davis) look like a modern version of a men’s club: it’s a man’s world with men’s rules. But it’s also a very exposing and private context to be in. It’s this duality that offers great opportunities for gender exploration whilst anchoring the text in a conversation-like tone. Nothing is forced or preachy. It flows naturally. We’ve met these men before in our everyday life.

The direction is sleek and steady. James Macdonald effortlessly orchestrates a 100-minute rollercoaster, delivering a kaleidoscopic tale that never ceases to engage the audience.

Regardless of their actual age, there’s something man-child about these characters. They may look like adults, but their emotional intelligence is sometimes lacking. It’s the price of becoming “a strong man”: feeling ashamed of their emotions. This suffering stays deeply buried for most of their life. And even when it’s spoken out loud, there’s no guarantee it will be heard by their fellow men. They fear it so they repress it. We are our fathers’ sons; but we’re also responsible for our actions and for what we pass on to future generations. The good and the bad. Changing is hard but possible. By the end of the play, I felt for these men. They’re each other best friends and enemies. A collective with a golden rule. Don’t cry.


Runs at Soho Theatre- Dean Street until 18th May.


Review: Francesco Pagnoncelli   Photo: Marc Brenner