With five in the cast on a catwalk-like stage, this is a modern, generally slapstick and cartoonish interpretation of Euripides’ Greek tragedy Medea. In the historic work, Medea seeks revenge on her unfaithful husband. In Jane Miller’s Just a Boy, Standing in Front of a Girl, all the characters have received a contemporary makeover. Further, misogyny, fat shaming and slut shaming are rife.
J (Gabriel Partington) – who thinks he is a good magician – sees 17-year-old M (Annie Lumsden) at school and likes what he sees. He tries to impress her with a lame card trick that backfires. M isn’t interested. Enter a teacher (Sophie Lampel) who isn’t exactly enamoured with the world. Unlike M, who is from a wealthy family, she can see potential in J, who is not. Reluctant though M is, the teacher encourages her to get together with J, which she does. Not unexpectedly, that causes backlash from her parents, who cut her off financially.
It turns out that J is fundamentally a good for nothing lay about who appears to be devoid of all skills. He is no magician, nor singer (he wants to join M’s brother’s band, but is rejected), nor businessman (he is out to climb the corporate ladder). With J, everything is about him, about how he is feeling, with little or no regard for M. Things deteriorate even further after J does the dirty on M in more ways than one. But when the crux comes, it is still shocking.
I can’t say I particularly warmed to the exaggerated hysterics of the play. I understand that it is parody, but Just a Boy, Standing in Front of a Girl didn’t really work for me, notwithstanding strong performances from the two female leads. Put another way, I believe less would have been more. Greater subtlety throughout could have turned this into a more memorable and noteworthy work.
Still, Annie Lumsden transitioned J well from naïve and hopeful to resigned and desperate. Gifted some choice lines in creating her “say it as I see it” teacher role, Sophie Lampel excels in her comic delivery. I didn’t feel the same way though about the “shouty” performance of the male lead. Gabriel Partington’s voice literally boomed over the top of everyone and was distressingly loud. My ears hurt. Surely it is the job of director Beng Oh to pare him back … and it is such an easy fix.
The cavernous nature of the great space that is fortyfivedownstairs didn’t help his cause, but really that is no excuse. Understand the venue and play to it. I also found J too vacuous to be believable. Ninety minutes without interval, Just a Boy, Standing in Front of a Girl, also features Hudson Emery and Glenn van Oosterom in several roles. The tragicomedy, a cautionary parable about the patriarchy, is on until 9th July, 2023.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Myra in Space (fortyfivedownstairs) – theatre review
- Love (fortyfivedownstairs) – theatre review
- kerosene/SIRENS (fortyfivedownstairs) – theatre review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.