Theatre review - The Boys in the Band, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

PUBLISHED: 10:13 16 November 2016 | UPDATED: 10:13 16 November 2016

THE BOYS IN THE BAND Daniel Boys, Jack Derges, Mark Gatiss and Ben Mansfield. Photo by Darren Bell

THE BOYS IN THE BAND Daniel Boys, Jack Derges, Mark Gatiss and Ben Mansfield. Photo by Darren Bell


Mark Gatiss stars in the first major revival of this iconic play in almost 20 years.

You are cordially invited to a birthday party. There’ll be cake, dancing, booze, seven close friends, an uptight man in a dinner suit and a topless cowboy with pecs you can bounce a pound coin off.

Sounds fun, doesn’t it? And it is, until the laughs give way to self-loathing and the playful jabs lead to slaps, punches and bloodied noses.

Forty-eight years on from its off-Broadway premier, in the year before the Stonewall riots initiated the modern gay rights movement, The Boys in the Band is still shocking in its depiction of homophobia. We’ve seen ignorance-fuelled queer-bashing many times before, but this still feels fresh and raw and deeply, deeply troubling because the hatred is so insidious and internalised.

At the centre of it all is party host Michael, a maelstrom of malevolence played by Ian Hallard, who teeters on a tightrope of emotion throughout before plummeting dramatically into the dark depths of self-loathing.

He welcomes his friends – Donald, a directionless writer, played with warmth and humanity by Daniel Boys; Emory, an interior designer, who gets the biggest laughs of the night thanks to the superb timing and tom-foolery of James Holmes; Bernard, played with an adept light touch by Greg Lockett; commercial artist Larry, given swagger and honesty by Ben Mansfield; and school-teacher Hank, a conservative man with a liberal, loving heart played with a particularly moving quiet passion by Nathan Nolan – and, when they’re all sated with red wine and cracked crab, dissects their lives with a truth-telling party game that makes Russian roulette look like a bit of harmless fun.

But wait. There’s an even more deadly viper in the room; a viper in a velvet jacket with poison so strong it burns. Birthday boy Harold, a ‘Jew fairy’ with a pock-marked face and hair that strays perilously into afro territory, is the reason the friends are gathered – and the reason many of us are in the theatre.

Put bluntly, we want to see if Mark Gatiss – the tall, smiley one from The League of Gentlemen, Doctor Who, Sherlock, Nighty Night and many, many more TV hits – can hold an audience at close quarters (very close in fact when it comes to the Playhouse’s smaller Courtyard theatre). Thankfully, he delivers. From his teasingly late entrance, just as the blackout comes to mark the interval, to his Bette Davis-worthy exit on the arm of his birthday gift – a stupidly beautiful and beautifully stupid cowboy-a-gram played with verve by Jack Derges – Gatiss is venomously charming, with a mesmerising air tinged with barely restrained ferocity that keeps his fellow actors, and the audience, on the edge of their seats.

When Michael attempts to destroy his old college roommate – and surprise party guest – Alan, an urbane, manly man played skilfully by John Hopkins (picture Mad Men’s Don Draper having a seriously bad night out with the boys and you won’t be far off), you know it can only be a matter of time before Harold returns the favour, but this time with the toxicity level turned up to ten.

If all this makes The Boys in the Band sound like a bleak, blacker-than-black night out; well, it is. But it’s also a ridiculously funny, smart, incisive, joyous and thought-provoking wild ride of a play that makes Abigail’s Party look tame in comparison.

If you get an invitation, go. And if you don’t, gatecrash.

Jo Haywood

More from Out & About


The days may be short and cold, but there is still magic to be seen in Yorkshire’s winter wonderlands. Sam Twyman and Clea Grady from Yorkshire Wildlife Trust share their favourite winter tips

Read more
Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Enjoy the views into the Yorkshire Dales and, dare we say it, towards Lancashire during this lovely walk

Read more
Friday, November 30, 2018

It’s an all-year-round project putting together a merry welcome at one family country house

Read more
Tuesday, November 27, 2018

George and Gerald are determined not to go to sleep on Christmas Eve. Tucked up snugly in bed, they want to stay awake to see if Father Christmas brings them a little something for being good boys all year long. Gerald has his fingers (and toes) crossed for a fire engine.

Read more
Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Banish the loneliness of the digital world and head for real life retail therapy at a historic market place, says Richard Darn

Read more
Monday, November 26, 2018

What next for a former Harrogate spa hotel and public house?

Read more
RHS Harlow Carr
Friday, November 23, 2018

When the festive frenzy gets too much, just head out of town.

Read more
Fountains Abbey
Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Treat yourself to a luxury break while exploring the beautiful area surrounding the North York Moors national park.

Read more
Friday, November 16, 2018

Depending on wwho you ask, Hebden Bridge is a place for artists, commuters and hippies. Walkers also love this market town for its proximity to some fine West Yorskhire countryside.

Read more
Hebden Bridge

Topics of Interest

Follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Property Search