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Boy With Beer review at King’s Head Theatre, London – ‘heartfelt exploration of love’

Enyi Okoronkwo and Chin Nyenwe in Boy With Beer at the King's Head Theatre, London. Photo: Theo Chadha Enyi Okoronkwo and Chin Nyenwe in Boy With Beer at the King's Head Theatre, London. Photo: Theo Chadha
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A heartfelt exploration of love between two black men, Paul Boakye’s Boy With Beer was groundbreaking when it premiered 25 years ago. Revived as part of the ongoing programme of LGBT plays at the King’s Head Theatre in London, the text undeniably shows its age in places. Anecdotes of cottaging and misconceptions about Aids feel dated in a post-Grindr world, but the witty, well-observed script offers a meticulous portrait of its central characters.

Fizzing with jittery energy, Enyi Okoronkwo plays Donovan – closeted, poor and juggling a mass of overlapping but seemingly irreconcilable identities. Cocky but confused, defensive but desperately vulnerable, he shifts mercurially between postures as he tries to come to terms with himself.

Chin Nyenwe’s more mature, more successful Karl exudes intellectual and sexual confidence. His knowing coolness conceals a yearning for a deeper connection, both to his lover and to his Ghanaian roots.

Their effervescent chemistry gives the production a real lift, as they flirt, bicker and crisply convey every moment of humour or pathos. Director Harry Mackrill keeps them within touching distance – almost nose-to-nose – throughout, but the tone is often more tentative than intimate.

Scenes blur into one another, separated by Karl’s poetic ramblings – and one incongruous monologue – while Theo Chadha’s moody lighting fills the space with shifting warm shadows and washes of calm blue.

Though the impact of some of the play’s themes has lessened with time and familiarity, its emotional core – the tension between seeking love and finding our own identities – is perennially relevant.

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Sensitive and sharply-performed revival explores sexuality, masculinity and heritage