I try to laugh about it
Cover it all up with lies
I try and laugh about it
Hiding the tears in my eyes
Because boys don’t cry
Boys Don’t Cry – The Cure
Coming-of-age stories come in all shapes and sizes, with the year and location playing an important part in the tale’s texture. Set in 1986, Eyes Clothes, Ears Covered focuses on the friendship of two secondary school boys from Woking, Surrey. As the perennial odd couple, they stick together out of necessity as they find it hard to make friends with others at school. Aaron (Danny-Boy Hatchard) – the more boisterous of the two – often takes the lead and initiates “little adventures” (i.e. go truanting). Seb (Joe Idris-Roberts) meanwhile happily goes along with most suggestions. As someone whose social skills are underdeveloped, he oscillates between being told what to do and living in fear. Their luck, however, runs out as they are picked up by the long arm of the law during a “little adventure” to Brighton and are interviewed separately at a police station.
Playwright Alex Gwyther and director Derek Anderson paint a vivid picture of schooldays in the ’80s, with the estrangement from parents and hostility from older pupils alluded to repeatedly. As the ‘alpha’ character on stage, Aaron’s energy and demeanour drives much of the action in the first half, simultaneously rebellious yet protective when it comes to Seb’s well-being. As for Seb, it’s evident from the word go that even as an introverted personality, he’s abnormally reticient and emotionally immature. Hints about his homelife are judiciously given, indicating his parents are involved one way or another with his demeanour.
When Seb’s mother Lily (Phoebe Thomas) makes a belated appearence, her introduction is enlightening, narratively speaking, confirming some ‘facts’ while negating others. The discernible tonal shift by her presence can be equated to an illuminated object that casts a large shadow in its path. With the exception of Lily, all of the adults in the boys’ world are heard, but never seen – something that reminded me of the classic Peanuts cartoons, where they’re background noise but of no lasting consequence. On a more serious note, as a natural by-product of the play focusing on the boys, a solipsistic world is engendered, leaving the audience reliant on their stories for ‘the truth’. But are we to believe everything the boys say when they’re in custody? Are they reliable witnesses? Seb’s predilection for avoiding any trouble may lead him to say yes to anything the police suggests, while Aaron’s ambivalence towards authority could spur him on to derail the investigation.
On a separate note, in terms of subtle technical aspects of the play that denote authenticity, mention should be made of Norvydas Genys’ lighting – some of the most versatiile and adept I’ve seen on stage in ages – and Jonnie Riordan’s parkour-inspired choreography, transforming the basic blocks and ramps onstage into a credible urban assault course.
Eyes Clothes, Ears Covered may begin as a microcosm of alienation in Thatcher’s Britain, but by its end it certainly shows how a lack of interest from ‘no society’ has led to extremeties of behaviour, unnoticed and unchecked until it’s beyond the pale. A ‘coming of age’ usually refers to a threshold that has been passed that marks the mental and physical state of adulthood. For Seb and Aaron, this lack of innocence comes at a cost.
© Michael Davis 2017
Eyes Closed, Ears Covered runs at the Bunker Theatre, London until 30th September.