Boy Out The City

25th to 28th March 2024

Declan Bennett | Belgrade Theatre | Directed by Nancy Sullivan

Declan Bennett comes home to Coventry, delivering his blistering one man show in poetic style.

“This isn’t a show about covid,” he assures us through a face mask in the opening moments of the piece. “It’s about gay shame.” In the single hour he holds our unflinching attention on stage, it certainly mines the depths of what it means to grow up gay in a UK city, but it’s about so much more than shame.

‘Boy Out The City’ is a universal story about knowing and accepting yourself, about loneliness and despair, prejudice and discrimination. What Bennett does so brilliantly, in the writing and performing of his story, is inject humour and charm into these weighty and sensitive themes. The result is a show which never feels preachy and which connects on a raw emotional level with its audience.

We are taken back to the first covid lockdown in March 2020. Bennett and his partner, also an actor, up-sticks and relocate to Watlington, Oxfordshire. Any notion of spending time together in a rural idyll is soon smashed when Bennett’s partner jets off to America for work and he is left alone in their cottage.

Reuben Speed’s simple set design, a sparse kitchen area, single sitting chair and side table, place us in a space which could be anywhere. Jagged torn walls nicely suggest the fractured journey we are taken on as Bennett’s solitude leaves him with nowhere to hide from himself. Forced to confront his inner-child, we are witnesses to the impact of his past.

His excitement and innocence about starting secondary school, gleefully buying shiny new stationery, is quickly broken by the harsh realities of homophobic playground bullying. Taunts of “queer” and “faggot” force him to create a persona, to deny and repress. We’ve come a long way since the mid-90s but growing up gay remains fraught with difficulty and, sadly, there will be teens in Coventry and around the country today exposed to similar treatment.

Shifting between present-day lockdown and his past, we see Bennett slowly embracing his sexuality and living a truer version of himself but the damage done in childhood is plain to see. He throws himself into London’s Soho nightlife and spends time in New York City but continues to run from the hurt and damaged child inside. Distraction and routine (there’s only so much banana bread he can bake for neighbour Anne) finally fail, culminating in a heartbreaking moment in which he screams “I give up.”

In a performance of incredible physicality, Bennett beautifully balances frantic mania with quieter moments of reflection. An intimate connection with the audience is sustained throughout: in the show’s final seconds, as he sits crossed-legged under a single spotlight, it feels like a gathering of friends and family.

Directed and co-created by Nancy Sullivan, ‘Boy Out The City’ is a poignant, powerful and poetic piece of theatre: raw, bursting with energy and ultimately uplifting. A one man show from a Coventry-born artist not to be missed.

‘Boy Out The City’ is playing at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre from 25th to 28th March 2024.

Boy Out The City