Devised and performed by Ryan Richards
Directed by Nic Sampson
Basement Theatre, Auckland | March 18-22
Sometimes it’s clear-cut whether I’ll enjoy a show or not. Some shows, for instance, are so far much up my alley that I’m basically formulating a rave review from the moment the house lights go down, such as with last year’s Abigail’s Party or this year’s They Saw A Thylacine. A Boy Wonder is a rare thing in that I wasn’t expecting it to be to my taste: a solo show that appeared to be about Scouts, and a silly show at that. It seemed like the kind of thing that all the people I hated in high school would have lost their minds over. However, I was won over almost immediately.
This is not to say that A Boy Wonder isn’t a silly show. It is. It concerns two Scout troop members who become friends and then ridiculous things happen. The primary joy in this show isn’t in the plot, though the twists and turns are nonetheless too good or at least too fun to spoil. It unfolds like two episodes of a Saturday morning cartoon, which appears to be the register that writer-actor Ryan Richards is going for.
Creator Ryan Richards has an ace in the hole in, well, himself. I’ve seen Richards onstage before, but he’s never been allowed to steal the stage and the entire show like he has in this. Performing an array of characters with an incredible amount of energy, he has an incredible talent for characterisation, and moves around the stage with a surprising amount of grace for a guy who is dressed in a Scout’s uniform that somehow still fits him.
He’s also a ridiculously charming presence, making us fall in love with the characters almost immediately. For example, his Glenda, the wife of a Scout troup member, is not convincing, but through sheer charisma we believe it and end up loving her. This charisma carries over into a great sense of comic timing, and an aura about him that makes it seem as though he could read your tax return and you’d end up laughing at it, and him. Richards has given himself a great showcase as an actor, and he more than reaches the challenges set for himself.
As a show, it’s a tight-run ship, thanks to Nic Sampson and Laura Daniel’s direction. Scenes flow well into each other, and the lo-fi aesthetic is endearing and suitably chintzy. Richards runs through it at an incredible clip, so we’re never bored or waiting for a scene to end and the next one to begin.
With a few edits, A Boy Wonder would make a brilliant show for kids. Some of the humour is juvenile, and I mean that in the most complimentary way, but it also has a warm heart to it, provided by the actor at its core. It’s a show for children, and also for the child inside of us. It’s a showcase for an actor who definitely has more to show us.
Sometimes all you need is an hour of silliness and laughter, and that’s what A Boy Wonder provides in spades.