Review: The Olive Boy at Alnwick Playhouse

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New talent Ollie Maddigan brought his hilarious and harrowing one-man play about male adolescence and grief to Alnwick Playhouse as part of his UK tour

Whilst some of the ingredients of ‘The Olive Boy’ might scare away soft-core theatre-goers, it proved to be one of the most moving and powerful performances I’ve seen in years.

Admittedly, my friend and I were a little dubious as the play had been repeatedly pegged as “crude but compelling” by their own marketing team, and the topic of parental bereavement on a Wednesday evening is a lot for anyone.

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With ripe language and a graphic insight into the mind of a not-very-P.C-teenage-boy, it might not be for the faint-hearted - but it was funny, clever and incredibly emotive.

The Olive Boy at Alnwick Playhouse.The Olive Boy at Alnwick Playhouse.
The Olive Boy at Alnwick Playhouse.

The play tells the real-life story of the sudden loss of Maddigan’s mother, when he was just 14 years old.

We meet 15-year-old Ollie, now living with his father - who he barely knows and openly resents - who is attending a new school and navigating the social struggles, hormones and temptations of teenagerhood.

With a single chair on an otherwise propless stage, Maddigan managed to captivate audiences with his physicality and multi-roling as dad, drunk science girl, repulsive geek, cool chav and ex-step-father ‘Pushover Peter’.

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Slick sound and lighting shifts, projected footage of his absent mother, and the prerecorded voice of various therapists provided the only other company on stage, but in a way reminiscent of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s award-winning ‘Fleabag’.

My friend and I were left a bit speechless and, with sizeable lumps in our throats, unable to leave the theatre for a few minutes until we had composed ourselves. And it wasn’t just us. A colleague of mine emailed me the next day to say she would have said hello after the performance - had she been able to stop sobbing - and what did I think of it?

Well, I thought it was a brave, modern take on grief and refreshing use of the theatre space.

Ollie Maddigan gave a sublime performance that deserves to be seen and to be talked about. Thank you to Alnwick Playhouse for bringing it to our town - and for taking a risk on something new and brilliantly uncomfortable.

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