Kevin Jones’ one-man play, Cardiff Boy, is a love letter to the 1990s – a spirited monologue that plays to an evocative soundtrack of Pulp, New Order and Oasis.
We meet a 17-year-old boy from Cardiff’s Llanedeyrn estate. While his mates are laddish archetypes – the tough guy, the nutcase, the shagger – he cements his place in the gang as “the thoughtful one,” the friend the others can turn to in moments of introspection.
Jack Hammett imbues the role with the right combination of pent-up teenage energy and vulnerability, bouncing around the audience as he describes meeting the girl of his dreams in a club, then rooted to the spot and looking us straight in the eye in the moments of pathos that will go on to define his future.
April Dalton’s set design is perfect, the audience sat at tables in a dive of a pub – all smoky ashtrays and Brains Bitter beermats – while Ryan Stafford’s lighting hints at an ethereal outside world brimming with opportunity.
Jones’ play crackles with Cardiff vernacular but also captures the loneliness of adolescent masculinity: our hero forsakes his own desires because he fears “looking like a prick” in front of his peers.
Hammett and director Matthew Holmquist deserve praise for eschewing sentimentality as these moments pass our hero by. It’s disappointing, though, that certain intriguing elements felt as if they’ve been lost along the way. The character’s own family is mentioned but virtually absent, and the ending feels too abrupt. Otherwise, it works well.