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A CurtainUp London London Review
Market Boy

I heard that carpet fitters, market traders and actors make the best stockbrokers.
---- Boy
Market Boy
Jemma Walker as The Most Beautiful Woman in Romford and to the rear Danny Worters as the Boy
(Photo: Robbie Jack)
To the exciting sound of Frankie Goes to Hollywood's hit "Relax," a van drives onstage with its headlights full on and starts to put together the ironwork for a market stall selling shoes. A procession of women shoppers are chatted up, flattered by these traders and buy just one shoe which they wear to walk off, as the stall owner explains how to sell. This is a comedic look at the 1980s and Thatcherism through this coming of age play about a teenage boy in his first job working on a market stall in London's Romford Market. After the tremendous London hit Festen which David Eldridge and Rufus Norris collaborated on, writer and director come together for Market Boy which gets a brilliant production in the Olivier, the largest venue at the National Theatre.

What Market Boy does superbly is to show us the materialism, the boom-bust economy of the 1980s in an action packed rock driven two hours. The street banter of the market boys and their "anything is possible" philosophy is lively and authentic. But Market Boy is essentially a light or shallow look at the 1980s. It doesn't attempt to engage the concept of yuppiedom at anything other than a superficial level. It doesn't show the selling off of the Nation's assets and the change in values of the market driven economy which meant wealth came without responsibility. The 1980s was the first time I remember young people sleeping in blankets and cardboard boxes in shop doorways in Theatreland and it being ok for bankers to say that they were there because they wanted to be homeless. There is plenty of Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance and waving of the Union Flag as we relive Thatcher's victory in the Falklands' War.

Market Boy follows the career of the Boy (Danny Worthers) from his initiation as a market worker apprenticed to Gary McDonald's Trader, wheeler dealer and sex god. We meet the other stall holders: the fish stall, the greengrocer, the record man, the butcher, the flower lady, the knicker woman and more. All scenes are set in Romford Market at different times of day and of the year. The dark winter days see the market stalls lit up and the trashy Christmas decorations twinkle away.

Steve the Nutter (John Marquez) leaves the market, discovers clubbing, Ecstasy, Ibiza and the concept of "so loved up!" We are treated to a procession of people in the history of Romford from the Roman Emperor Vespasian, through the pirate Captain Blood to the twentieth century's star snooker player, Steve Davis.

The Boy meets Girl (Jade Williams) and impresses her with a dinner cooked by himself with tips from the Meat Man (Jonathan Cullen) who reminds us that the 1980s generated the feast of stylish television cookery programmes. Boy sees his Mum (Claire Rushbrooke) fall to the charms of The Shoe Trader. Later the Most Beautiful Woman in Romford, a life size Barbie doll (Jemma Walker) snares the Trader to bankroll her designer shopping bills. A fellow shoe boy, Snooks (Freddy White) leaves the market to become a city broker, complete with white Ford convertible, only at the end of the Eighties to be begging for his job back after the Crash. The parallels are elicited between Maggie's Free Market and Romford's trading post.

There are many witty design images which will stay with you after seeing Market Boy. A celebratory flag waving where Margaret Thatcher (Nicola Blackwell), blue suited, blonde permed, handbag toting, descends on wires with two beautiful bat shaped wings made out of the Union flag, with which regally to acknowledge the cheering crowd. "Thank Christ for Maggie!" the shout goes up. Then there are the choreographed market traders where their sales patter has turned into a fast rap routine, only more melodic. The Christmas scene played to the cheesy hit "Walking in the Air, <" the music from the children's classic The Snowman, is conducted by M. Thatcher. The one I shall never forget is that of Gary MacDonald, the Trader, putting the Most Beautiful Woman in Romford under his arm, as if she is a tailor's dummy. She is a life size Barbie -- big blonde curls, thin legs 48 inches long, utterly rigid as if made of plastic -- and is put under one arm like a plank and plonked straight into the back of his van for sexual action.

Rufus Norris is in my opinion one of the top three most talented young directors working in the UK and he has stamped this production with many smiling touches. He draws completely perfect performances from his large cast playing Essex men and girls with their impeccably accurate horrid vowel sounds of Estuary English. The ingenue, tousled haired, initiate Boy from Danny Worters is gauche and awkward and sympathetic. Gary McDonald's ski panted Caribbean Homme Fatale, steals the show and is charming and as attractive as he is fickle. A lovely costume touch has him dressed from head to toe in black kid leather after the Barbie girlfriend is let loose in Bond Street with a credit card.

Market Boy deserves a big press but it may please neither the stalwarts of the Conservative Party nor the intelligentia of the Left for the lightness with which it handles the smashing of the trade unions and the advent of negative equity. However, notwithstanding the lack of a more serious political agenda, I really enjoyed Rufus Norris' production. It's full of vibrancy, humour, great music and gorgeous visuals and potentially will bring into the National Theatre a younger and less elitist audience.

Written by David Eldridge
Directed by Rufus Norris

Starring: Gary McDonald, John Marquez
With: Danny Worters, Claire Rushbrook, Callum Dixon, Paul Anderson, Freddy White, Jade Williams, Jan Goodman, Ruth Sheen, Jaimi Barbakoff, Owen Oakeshott, Georgina Lamb. Mercedes Grower, Nicola Blackwell, Jemma Walker, Andrew Frame, Branwell Donaghey, Sophie Stanton, Jim Creighton, Paul Moriarty, Jonathan Cullen, Jacob Krichefski, Craig Vye, Stephen Ventura, David Sternberg, Micah Balfour, Ralph Birtwell, Michael Camp, Mike Darnell, Michael Taibi
Set Design: Katrina Lindsay
Costume Design: Harriet Barsby
Lighting: Hugh Vanstone
Sound Design: Paul Arditti
Choreography: Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett for Frantic Assembly
Vocal Arranger: Steven Edis
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes with one interval
A part of the Travelex £10 Season
Box Office: 020 7452 3000
Booking to 3rd August 2006
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge on 8th June 2006 performance at the Olivier, Royal National Theatre, South Bank, Waterloo, London SE1 (Rail/Tube: Waterloo)
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