2 min

Boy toys but doesn’t deliver

Uninteresting Queen turns out to be a sphinx without a secret

Credit: Xtra files

You’d think nothing would delight a queen more than finding a curious 17-year-old in her bedchamber, but playwright/director Sky Gilbert’s new piece suggests otherwise.

Queen Victoria was just 23 and not at all amused when confronted by snooping, sooty Edwin Jones, who was quickly made a star by the press. The piece re-tells the story – perhaps too faithfully – as it explores the class divide in Victorian England, now and then dropping in a musical gem by composer John Alcorn (with whom Gilbert previously collaborated on the Dora-award-winning Suzie Goo: Private Secretary).

The enigmatic Boy is played with wild-eyed appeal by Gil Garratt, whose very body language suggests dirt under the fingernails. Somewhat of a cross between Oliver Twist and Uriah Heep, the young stalker descends through the Victorian correctional system but repeatedly returns to Buckingham Palace, obsessed by the Queen and the social chasm that separates him from her.

Entertaining performances enliven this Cabaret Company production (in association with University Of Toronto’s graduate centre for study of drama). Jennifer Waiser delights as the prissy Royal Doulton figurine of a Queen, though Richard MacDonagh’s pseudo-German Albert grates. Mark Christmann’s Steward has facial expressions and diction that deserve to be regarded as national treasures.

The central character’s ambiguous sexuality becomes a driving force behind his explorations. More “polymorphously perverse” than gay – homosexuality hadn’t been invented yet – the Boy is as happy to sing a gleeful music-hall number about the Queen’s undies (a highlight) as he is to plant a kiss on the much older Elgar (Richard Partington), who employs him in a variety of positions. Partington arouses sympathy for the plight of the mature man who’s fallen for a tow-headed youth, and his lovelorn ballad is the play’s emotional climax.

There’s rhythm in the inventive switching back and forth between the colourless world of the working class and the remote luxury of Buckingham Palace, superbly embodied by Steve Lucas’s economical set. The humour works less well: Overuse of the pet name “Pussy” and references to the Boy’s “humungous curiosity” arouse scarcely a titter.

In the end, the inherently uninteresting Queen turns out to be a sphinx without a secret. Even the less predictable Boy thinks instead of feeling, reacting scarcely at all to men’s advances or to his own dashed hopes. Maddeningly, the play makes a point of giving no compelling answers to its own questions, creating a Victorian world coldly ornamental and short on feeling.

* The Boy Jones closed Feb 17.