"Are we allowed to take drinks in?" I ask the steward at Bush Hall, the temporary home of the Bush Theatre while the main house undergoes renovations.
"Of course", says the steward. Apparently, I haven't received the memo that 'Boys will be Boys' is a hedonistic, musical exploration of Girl Power in a man's world. Drinking is welcome. "The performance contains strobe lights", she adds as we enter the vaudeville music hall.
Melissa Bubnic's 100 minute play unfurls in an unbroken stream of smoke, sex and six-figure deals. The audience sit at speakeasy tables, drinking in the cabaret songs which Astrid, a ball-breaking, vampy broker uses to serenade us through the ups and downs of life on the trading floor.
A calculating seductress, Astrid has been using her "great tits" and impressive alcohol tolerance to entice new clients and win lucrative "lines". She's "the best" she tells us, downing a shot and commanding the stage with a charisma like 'Chicago's famous songstress, Velma. But when Astrid interviews Priya for a job, she brings this young Bangladeshi protégée under her wing and into the bear pit. As Priya gains in confidence and client lists, Velma, it seems, has met her Roxie.
'Boys will be Boys' teases us with the suggestion that it is concerned with the male/female power-play. But Astrid's relationships with men are shown to be one-dimensional: she either screws them over or just screws them. And so the play refocuses elsewhere, centralising Astrid's interactions with other women; the call-girl who fills the void of a real-life gal pal and the protege who transforms from lap-dog to lioness when she starts to play the trading game for her self.
The cast is all-female but this is easy to forget this, so convincing is Helen Schlesinger's performance as asshole boss, Arthur Beale or Emily Barber's as the young 'toff' Harrison whose Daddy is an important client. Only Kirsty Bushell (Astrid) does not multi-role as she anchors us to the piece, leading the audience through the coke-fuelled dance of the supporting characters, the chess pieces in her game of life.
For all its song and dance bravado, 'Boys will be Boys' is a delicate balancing act between the ecstatic, empowering 'wins' of Astrid's career and her growing isolation. Bubnic showcases the Armani, the restaurants and the bonuses synonymous with a broker's life but also the darker and often dangerous side. We feel sorry for Astrid but the play asks, importantly, would she inspire the same pity if she was a man? Or would we be hoping he was the one buying us a drink to take into the theatre?
Book tickets here.
Book tickets here.