Skins star Nicholas Hoult makes his West End debut in this play about a boy, the New Boy at school, and the sexual and social confusion he sparks.
The boy in question is not Hoult’s character, Mark, who is the geeky, gangly narrator of the story, but Barry (Gregg Lowe), an aloof, self-assured newcomer at school whose air of mystery compels Mark to get to know him.
It is the beginning of the school year. Mark is a teenager starting sixth form and well aware of the sexual and social obstacles he must conquer during the next two years in order to develop into a fully functional man with a modicum of popularity. But this is something that his new buddy, Barry, seems oblivious to. To Mark’s incredulity, he discovers his better looking friend is, like him, still a virgin, and sets out to change this, living out his own fantasies by encouraging Barry to trade on his looks and conquer the school’s female population – students and teachers alike.
Mark’s plan succeeds a little too well; while his own sexual experience remains limited to a fumbled grope at a party, Barry starts an affair with their French teacher Mrs Mumford. And Barry’s allure doesn’t stop there.
New Boy is based on the novel by William Sutcliffe, and this stage production retains the feel of a written story, narrated as it is by Mark and taking us fairly swiftly through two years in the characters’ lives. What’s more, while it begins rooted in some sort of reality, the story quickly moves into the realm of comic fantasy, as Mrs Mumford (the scene-stealing Mel Giedroyc) announces to her students that she is leaving her husband and children to move in with the virile young Barry.
Hoult takes to the stage with flare, showing an aptitude for comic timing as he imbues Mark with a sympathetic balance of teenage insecurity, sexual desperation, immature prejudice and self-deprecating humour. His mismatched socks seem an appropriate symbol of Mark’s awkward advance through young adulthood, as he struggles to deal with the feelings of sexual confusion that are awakened by his friendship with Barry.
Jason Denvir’s design turns the Trafalgar Studio 2 into a school locker room, which transforms neatly into a club, an adolescent’s bedroom and a classroom. Sitting closely on three sides in this tiny venue, the audience is given an appropriately – and sometimes squirmingly – intimate peak into the life of a teenager making a ham-fisted attempt to do as his school motto tells him – ‘Know Thyself’.