Tom Foreman and Will Leckie deliver Foreman’s impressive writing with range, humour and significant pathos, and while Foreman’s script felt somewhat unfinished in its climactic moments, “Big Boys Don’t Cry” sticks the landing with a delicately poignant conclusion.
Filling the roles of writer, director — assisted by Emily Webster — and actor with impassionate aptitude, Foreman’s achievement is highly commendable, with all three elements of his contribution succeeding in bringing his vision to life. Performance wise, Foreman and Leckie have thoughtfully achieved a convincing dynamic between well realised characters, Ben and Oscar, whose interactions comprising the play are often funny, always relatable and sometimes heartbreaking.
Both actors would have benefitted from occasionally slowing down and allowing certain scenes more breathing room, but such relaxation is difficult to achieve on an opening night.
The range and flexibly of both actors really shine here as the pair meet the demanding task of playing small children, Year 7s and young teenagers (Leckie also multiroles as a female friend of the duo), in addition to having to portray characters at one point in time before shifting in a matter of seconds to depict that same character a year later. Neither actor’s performance suffers in comparison, with Leckie and Foreman supporting and elevating each other, succeeding in placing the relationship between Ben and Oscar at the forefront rather than either character becoming overpowering.
This is largely thanks to Foreman’s carefully balanced writing. Though occasionally lacking subtext and failing – in my view – to offer a concrete resolution, I consistently forgot I was watching student writing and became enthralled by the skilfully managed plot. Most of the play is told retrospectively, with flashback scenes returning to a present day locus frequently enough to maintain coherency — something often lacking in similar plot structures. Moreover, Foreman and Webster’s direction is especially impressive here as their staging choices, augmented by Deasil Waltho’s lighting design, are vital in communicating when and where the characters are.
To say more on the writing, Ben and Oscar’s relationship is convincingly dynamic and depicted with truthful attention to the contours of real conversation, awkwardness, bitterness and mutual love. The consistent motif of Ben and Oscar failing to fully communicate their emotions is vital to the play’s overarching theme of male mental health, and though this is undermined in a few moments where either, or both, characters simply tell us how they feel, the theme is consistently explored and faithfully portrayed.
Through the character of Oscar (Leckie), Foreman sympathetically encapsulates and explores the familiar young man, intelligent yet uninspired by academia, slipping into a lethal, purposeless existence of resentment, nihilism and confusion. Oscar’s journey to mental illness is sensitively portrayed (at one moment explaining “it’s never one thing”), and Foreman deserves every credit for succeeding in what he has set out to do. I personally hoped there would be a more satisfying resolution, but my reaction testifies to the power of the dramaturgy, and, somehow, the play’s ultimate ending brings a sense of restful peace to the conflicts left behind.