Last week, the boys of Villiers House put on a compelling production of Joe Harbot’s The Boy on the Swing. Directed by Ms Gibbons, the play explores the exploitation of society’s most vulnerable and lost, while maintaining an acute sense of dark humour.
Upon finding a peculiar business card labelled ‘Talk to God,’ Earl Hunt (Israel A) is barraged by a flurry of questions. Admittedly, they are over the phone, yet the blackmail utilised by the individual on the other end of the line is somewhat disturbing. Consequently, Earl gives in, and proceeds to disclose his credit card’s pin to the elusive caller. Almost immediately, the smooth-talking Donald Trust (Oluwaleke O) arrives at the scene. We learn that Earl works at a factory and that Trust is part of the Hope and Trust Foundation – an organisation which provides the opportunity to meet with God, but for a price. It is clearly an institution founded on deceit with a truly ironic name. After their introductions, Trust asks Earl to close his eyes and envisage his ideal life, a life of happiness and perfection. He coaxes Earl to adopt a romanticised view of the world, something that proves to be a dangerous notion. Earl is then escorted to the main complex of the establishment and is met by the refreshing Jim Young (Alexander H.) Jim endeavours to make conversation with Earl to no avail; much to the disproval of Trust.
Scenes were connected by the dancing of the stage crew, which prompted many chuckles from the audience. A variety of songs were incorporated into these dance sequences; namely Where is my Mind by the Pixies. An apt choice, indicative of the thought-provoking nature of the play.
Soon after Earl’s arrival, we meet William Hope (Tristan M, an extravagant character who immediately wishes to play a game with Earl. The simple game constitutes of the naming objects in a peculiar chest. These objects were randomly assorted and included a policeman’s hat, a racket, and a pineapple. Despite the game’s simplicity, Hope’s cackles, pithy statements and sheer audacity were simply the epitome of comedy. Yet, Hope modifies the game and raise the stakes. Earl must now name the previous object that Hope places back into the box. Simple, yet, for every item Earl gets wrong, he gets a prick from a pin. Initially, Earl refuses to play, but he is persuaded by Hope; a recurring motif in this production. Tristan M, the actor playing William Hope, stated that he ‘had to instil fear in the audience while maintaining the comedy of the scene. It’s hard to make people laugh at a sadist.’ Although some of the cast faced challenges in portraying the characters, for the audience, the production was seamless.
Due to confusion pertaining to the duplicates in the chest; Earl received five pinpricks. Subsequently, he is alarmed and attempts to leave. Somewhat coincidentally, the exit is locked. Hope’s earlier geniality vanishes and is replaced with menace. He yells at Earl, asserting that he agreed to play and must face the consequences. This harsh shift in personality portrays Hope as a ‘puppet master’ controlling the actions of all below him. Hope receives his compensation and he later drugs Earl, leaving him asleep. Trust enters the room and plans to finally take Earl to God. Both Donald Trust’s and William Hope’s names are both aptronyms. This is most evident when Hope recounts a story of the Sun, while Earl sleeps unknowingly. The story tells of the Sun learning that all life has been eradicated. Consequently, it extinguishes itself from its tears. A tale of lost hope and affliction.
When Earl arises, he is met by an old man (Harry V), who is supposedly God. An attempt at authenticity is made through the fact the old man is draped in robes. Soon they begin to converse, and Earl’s eagerness is clear. He finds that this figure is embroiled in both all the workings of the universe as well as the daily crossword. A sense of wonder is forged when this God-like figure wants to celebrate his birthday. Ironic for the supposed creator of the universe. The play ended on a joyful note, with all the audience singing ‘Happy Birthday.’
The production was an enigmatic work that provoked some salient questions on the allure of happiness and its dangers. It also contained larger didactic messages on trust and belief. Congratulations are in order for not only the actors, but also all those involved in the direction, production, and technical elements of this outstanding play.