Well-timed to coincide with the Joburg Pride season, the Liberty Life Theatre on the Square has offered the city’s citizens a quiet and unimposing, but very powerful, theatrical gem to entertain and engage.
The Boy Who Fell From The Roof is billed as “the tale of the life and untimely death of a boy called Simon (Francesco Nassimbeni).” It certainly is that, but so much more.
It’s a small story told in simple chunks about a smart and endearingly cocky high school teen coming to grips with his sexuality, finding first love and his sudden death. I’m not giving anything away here; the non-linear “flashback” structure of the play begins with his demise after falling from a roof.
It’s also not as morbid as it all sounds, and involves other characters; namely his best friend Georgina (Alex Halligey), his lover (alternating, David Johnson and Keenan Arrison), mother (Adrienne Pearce) and the story’s sassy and all-knowing narrator (Frances Malek). They all comment on their relationship with Simon (often directly to the audience) and the events that play out on stage.
There is something of the feel of a novel to The Boy Who Fell From The Roof in terms of its narrative, but this in no way diminishes it. The piece’s language, courtesy of brilliant new playwright Juliet Jenkin, is literally the star of the show.
Without becoming inaccessible or dense, or losing its storytelling impetus, the writing is poetic, sharp and immensely impressive. There’s a freshness and wit to the text that confirms that Jenkin is someone to keep watching. Surprisingly, while the play deals to some extent with “coming out,” there’s little of the gay angst or hand-wringing that you might expect from a newer playwright.
Impeccably directed by veteran Roy Sargeant, the cast also impress with their ease with Jenkin’s words and possess a genuine likeability. The Boy Who Fell From The Roof is a simple piece with few set changes and minimal production, but this only adds to the clean and focused storytelling unfolding on stage.
First debuting in 2005 as part of the Artscape New Writing Programme, it has also been performed to great acclaim at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown and the Hilton Natal Witness Arts Festival. At the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival in May this year the play received further considerable praise – and deservedly so.
There’s not much that’s controversial or “in your face” about The Boy Who Fell From The Roof, giving it easy appeal to both a gay and straight audience. The result is that there’s little to distance even those with some misgivings about a gay-themed piece from the humour, insight and emotional impact of the play.
If you haven’t yet seen this remarkable play in its short run at the Liberty Life Theatre, then do so before it ends on the 13th of October. You’re unlikely to see a better written – local or international – theatre experience in some time.
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