Now in its second year at the Fringe, Belt Up's The Boy James begins in joyously unorthodox form. A fey figure in pyjamas ushers viewers into a dimly-lit study, arranging them on chairs, sofas and cushions. He holds court among his new friends as if it were his birthday party: playing games and telling tales of his adventures with James.
But much like the childhood innocence it uses as a thematic totem, The Boy James can't stay in one place for long. Belt Up's JM Barrie-esque production hones in on the bruising that occurs where childhood first meets adolescence. The cruelty of a child's guileless naivete brushing up against forces it cannot rationalise is deeply unsettling to witness, but the tension in the room—by turns emotional, physical and sexual—is so palpable and chilling precisely because it is seen through this prism of complete incomprehension.
Belt Up's acting is flawless and, having worked on the show since last year's run, the cast have developed an intimate connection with the text. The effortless believability of the performances are mesmerising: the love and loss felt between the male leads is touchingly fraternal, while the antagonistic presence of a young girl in the shadows creates a claustrophobic unease in the viewer. But it is the familiarity of the emotional conflict explored, and the beautiful melancholy with which it is rendered, that make The Boy James such a magnificent and uniquely affecting piece of theatre.