Theatre: Market Boy at the Union Theatre

Who needs virtual reality when you have the Union Theatre? They do immersion so well.

If you want to experience behind the scenes at a street market, then head for their production of Market Boy.

The huge cast brings Romford market to life, thronging with silver tongued Lotharios and transgender fishwives.

There’s never a dull moment, writes Christopher Walker.

The tea lady, Fat Annie, boisterously played by Katy Slater, greets you as you come in with the offer of a “cup of cha”.

I’m not exactly sure what it was she was pouring from her large tea pot. Someone suggested vodka.

She and “Kate Arms” (Helen Belbin) were certainly having a party.

Expect to be drawn into the Market from the moment you enter the auditorium.

Fans of 1980s music will love it. The plot, such as it is, revolves around the coming of age of The Boy, a 13-year-old brought by his mother to start earning some money in Romford market.

We follow him as he learns the trade, loses his virginity and comes to realise what’s important in life.

Tommy Knight as The Boy; above, Joey Ellis as Snooks;

Tommy Knight, familiar to fans of ITV’s Victoria as the cheeky backstairs footman, plays the role well. He’s already quite an experienced actor for his age, and this shows in his performance here.

Amy Gallagher is The Boy’s single mum, who comes to life when his new boss Andy Umerah gets handsy selling her a pair of red stilettos.

The trade The Boy is learning is how to sell shoes – for as little as £8.

Clearly go to Romford market next time you need to buy a present.

Andy Umerah’s character is the well-endowed “Trader” who women clearly find irresistible.

Maybe it’s because of his well filled ski pants. He is acrobatic as he pursues the women around the stage. He also must be very successful as he employs not just Boy, but three other loudmouths – “Mouse” (Joe Mason), “Snooks” (Joey Ellis) and “Don” (Callum Higgins).

This was Callum Higgins’ first appearance on the London stage and I found his performance captivating. He has excellent stage presence, and will go far in character roles.

These three lark about and teach the The Boy the ropes, although it is soon clear that he is actually the most talented one.

They also fight over ‘the most beautiful woman in Romford’ (convincingly Lucy Walker-Evans) and the two Essex Girls – super Lily Cooper and Claudia Archer.

Lily Cooper and ensemble

They should be physically restrained, they are voracious. The “Boy” learns how to get the Girl as well as sell her shoes. Snooks doesn’t like this, and ends up going into the City as a “Romford Ronnie.”

A trader on a much bigger market. He appears in the second act complete with Porsche. Of course, this is the 1980s (maybe that’s why stilettos cost £8).

So on one level the excellent Mat Betteridge presides threateningly as “The Toby,” a kind of market inspector, who carries a hammer in his belt. He is also a cross dresser with a penchant for market boys.

But the real character watching over this ramshackle group of characters is an iconic Margaret Thatcher (captured by Rachel Fenwick).

There is a scene where The Boy experiences drugs and hallucinates about a transmorphed Thatcher that, I assure you, you won’t forget.

Margaret Thatcher seems to still dominate the London stage nearly 30 years after she left number 10. Quite an achievement for her, although maybe a criticism of Theatre’s writers.

The language is also blue, and littered with street slang. Americans would need a translator. Sex is rarely not mentioned, and don’t expect intellectual entertainment.

This is not a deep play, and the insights only go so far. But this is an excellent production – do expect to have a lot of fun.

Market Boy plays at the Union Theatre until May 11 Box office – 020 7261 9876



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