Market Boy

Published April 17, 2008

The National’s Olivier theatre plays host to an entire shopping centre this summer as it launches David Eldridge’s new play Market Boy. Featuring a cast of 30 actors – some playing multiple parts – a couple of cars, a handful of moveable stalls and a large scaffold, the ambitious project, set during the 80s boom, had been hotly anticipated. Matthew Amer attended the first night…

I have not seen a more spectacular start to a show in some time. As Frankie Goes To Hollywood encourages everyone in the Olivier auditorium to Relax, a van bursts through a Labour Isn’t Working poster and starts to bring Romford market in the 1980s to life.

Danny Worters plays innocent 13-year-old Boy, whose Mum – a lone parent starved of affection, played by Claire Rushbrook – takes him to the market to get his first job. A shy, quiet lad ignorant of both shoes and women, he is taken under the guiding hand of shoe stall owner The Trader (Gary McDonald, sporting the tightest of Lycra leggings), who enlightens him on both accounts.

As Boy meets the incredible host of characters in the market, he grows in age, stature and confidence. And what characters there are: Paul Moriarty plays The Toby, a hammer-wielding, roaring, sexually-questionable market inspector who admits “I am a horrible b*****d”; John Marquez plays violently-unhinged ex-Para record stall owner Steve, whose life changes dramatically with his introduction to Ecstasy; and Jan Goodman plays Fat Annie, the market’s tea lady whose every other word is a sexual invitation.

There is, in fact, a lot of reference to sex throughout the play. You’ve either had it or you haven’t, and Boy hasn’t… yet.

Maggie Thatcher also makes an appearance in the form of Nicola Blackwell as a Spitting Image style caricature; her decisions and orations heralding new eras at the market.

David Eldridge’s script is alive with market slang and references to the 80s. There are fabulous nods in the direction of Bisto, Spandau Ballet and Grange Hill that raised more than a smile in the Olivier audience. This is supported by a soundtrack which follows the action from 1985 to 1991. There’s also a little history lesson on how Romford market has evolved over the years.

It evolves again by the end. The crash takes its toll and the once thriving hub of buying and selling is downsized. By then Boy has grown up and, teetering on the edge of his 20s, has the city in his sight.

Market Boy plays at the National Olivier until 3 August. 

MA