EdFringe 2022 Review: Boy

“…plentiful food for thought…”

Actors Vanja Maria Godée and Jeroen van der Ven lead Boy which takes residence at Summerhall this Edinburgh Fringe. This shocking true story centres on the story of gender identity and the abuse of power, with Carly Wijs’s production examining both with a biting humour and outlandish staging.

A wholesome Mennonite couple are delighted with the birth of twin boys. Son Bruce is the victim of a freak medical accident resulting in the loss of his penis, leaving his parents at a crossroads as of what to do – until Harvard medical professor Dr Money suggests raising Bruce as Brenda, nurturing the young boy, dressing him in female clothing, and pumping him with hormones.

The Summerhall stage is packed with mobile shelving units covered in several hundred cuddly toys. Actors Vanja Maria Godée and Jeroen van der Ven often utilising these to tell the story of Bruce, a case study that is shocking and unsettling, yet this measure injects some levity whilst channelling the themes of childhood playfulness that course throughout Boy. Wijs’s production uses a toy bear as a puppet in the hands of the actors to explore the end of Bruce’s narrative journey, before tracing the story back to explore events from the birth of the twins and the stomach-churning horror of the botched medical procedure.

Bruce’s parents are well-intentioned normal folks, guided by an ill-intentioned expert. Blinded by Dr Money’s Harvard background and prestigious medical title, the parents and their children are lured into an abuse of power and reputation. Boy explores the idea that Money viewed the case as something of a curio experiment to further his extensive CV – yet as it progresses, an even darker shade is unveiled in this manipulative abuse of which he inflicts.

Vanja Maria Godée and Jeroen van der Ven impress as the misguided parents. Both performers bring a vibrancy to the tale, both prominently capturing their love towards their children – and their desire to simply do what is recommended to be best for their child. They inject with a humour, yet an underlying sadness of the trauma they unintentionally afflicted upon their children.

Deeper textures are unveiled in Boy as Bruce begins to reject his forced identity as Brenda – capturing the sense of struggle and alienation that the child felt growing up with cisgender peers. There are certain parallels with further contemporary issues in the world of gender identity, Bruce’s pain and struggle perhaps mirroring the struggles and displacement felt by individuals born into the transgender community.

Boy concludes by sharing some video footage of interviews with Bruce, heightening the impact of the production and unveiling the true human cost of this medical misjudgement and malpractice – whilst also adding to the plentiful food for thought that Carly Wijs’s piece provides.

Boy runs at Summerhall until August 28th. Get tickets here.

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