East Belfast Boy opens with pulsating lights and drum and bass music. Davy leaps from the audience and starts dancing; it's aggressive, assertive, and he seems a bit cocky. It’s a party that he has organised, he’ll do the DJing and earn a bit of money – but it soon becomes clear that he’s not as sure of himself as he thinks he is.
This is a high-energy insight into the mind of a twenty-year-old man-child, trying to big himself up to us while admitting that much is beyond him. He can only find peace, or a sense of flow, on the dance-floor or in video gaming. (In the game he likes there’s no tactics; you don’t have to think it through.) I love the imprecision of Davy’s language: “Nine times of of ten I’m always right”, “110%”. It’s as if he is always trying to persuade himself that he knows what’s going on. It is what it is, you know.
Ryan McParland is superb as Davy, conveying a mix of aggression and vulnerability, outward assuredness and inward self-doubt. There is a sense that we are catching Davy at a time of flux in his life, but also, perhaps, that his life will always be like this. He’s reacting minute by minute, day by day to what is happening around him; he has no long-term plans. It is why the streets around him – and those who live round the corner, over the back, or two streets away – are so important to him. It’s the stability that doesn’t exist in his inner life.
McParland is using a radio mic, but the sound is far from clear at the start. It is muffled, and I am conscious I am hearing it from the speakers away out to my side of the stage, far from the performer. I struggle to work out what is being said in Davy’s strong Belfast accent even though I’m local to the place. It does settle down – though I’m not sure if the sound has been sorted out, or I’ve just become accustomed to it. I don’t think the large bare room helps with audibility, but it’s perfect for the scope it gives McParland to move around, space to burn his energy, all the while demonstrating his smallness in his environment.
It’s an unusual piece. A traditional narrative arc seems unimportant; we’re getting an unedited view of what’s going on in Davy’s head. Fintan Brady’s script is full of ums and ers, pauses, snatches of thoughts and unfinished sentences.
East Belfast Boy not like anything else I’ve seen at this Fringe. It’s not looking outward to the bigger issues – it’s all internal, as Davy tries to make sense of his world. If at times it appears confused and confusing, I think that’s fine, because that’s how Davy is: confused and confusing too.