EdFringe 2022 Review: Soho Boy

Owen Dennis takes centre stage in one man cabaret-musical Soho Boy at theSpaceUK’s Symposium Hall this Edinburgh Fringe. Blending sentimental musical numbers with musings about the raunchier side of gay life produces a curious blend that never sits quite right, despite Dennis’s solid performance.

Paul Emelion-Daly’s Soho Boy sees young, wide-eyed Spencer delving into the London gay scene whilst navigating his dreams of becoming a professional cabaret star. Spencer gains a lease of life in the night club scene when he meets a rugged, tattooed boyfriend who encourages him to take to the streets to share his musical talents. However, Spencer and his boyfriend soon realise they come from opposing worlds with their respective experiences within the gay scene proving quite different.

Owen opens the show with a lively number about immersing himself in the world of Soho – capturing the excitement of the gay scene for a fresh faced newbie. The original music is a mixed bag – some numbers more effective than others. Spencer is soon introduced to us in his Édith Piaf adoring glory, sharing his dreams of cabaret stardom and becoming a world-renowned chanteuse. Spencer’s night in Soho sees him fall into a relationship with a rugged, scene-regular – although it is clear that their tastes are varying levels of extreme. Owen does has an interest in the world of S&M (as highlighted in musical number Leather & Chains complete with flopping sex toys and balloon pumps), although his new partner’s interests in chemsex proves a little more extreme.

It is hard to gain much investment in the gradual decline of Owen’s relationship with Soho Boy’s narrative not committing the time to establishing it in the first place. Much of Soho Boy suffers a similar fate lacking the grounding and initial establishment to draw us into this queer fantasy. Spencer sings of being ‘sassy like Dame Shirley Bassey’ yet this side of him is never quite shown, like much of the content of the songs – it is never evidenced, and subsequently never quite believable. Narrative turns can feel like sharp jerks such as the clunky death of Spencer’s boyfriend’s best friend out of nowhere or Spencer being diagnosed with HIV after going to a chemsex party.

Soho Boy does utilise some inventive staging such as the placement of two rotating mirrors at the opposing sides of the stage, rotating to reveal make-shift wardrobes housing Spencer’s various garments. Praise should also go to rising star Owen Dennis who delivers a confident turn with a strong knowledge of the text and its weaving musical tapestry.

Soho Boy plays at theSpaceUK’s Symposium Hall until the 27th of August. Get your tickets here.

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