'A Boy & A Bean', written and performed by Nick Atkins is one of the shows on offer for the Queer Act/Ions Festival to coincide with the Sydney Mardi Gras. I saw ‘A Boy & A Bean’ at the PACT Theatre on the weekend before it moves off to the Q Theatre this week and then on to Dublin in May. In a nutshell, it’s a nice show. It’s essentially a love story with a few expected complications, some of which are clear references to the discrimination against gay marriage and the rest of the play’s hurdles centre around our protagonist Jack's own perceived obstacles and his subsequent actions of relationship self-sabotage.
Atkins is an accomplished performer. He has an array of physical and vocal skills and happily uses the intimacy of the small stage to create an atmosphere of warmth and likability towards each character as they emerge from the collection of players he gives life to throughout the hour long show. He wraps all of this around the metaphor of Jack and the Beanstalk, although I will admit that the allusion was not so clear at the start until I realised that the Giant was our narrator and more of a drag mother than a tyrant in Atkins’ story. The Giant is meant to embody not so much an ogre but a new perspective on our own monsters but it doesn't always hit that beat and requires us as audience to try to make that connection ourselves.
Even though our protagonist Jack fills almost all of the performance time telling his version of the story and we feel he is the closest representation to Atkins himself, it is his partner David that is the most defined and vulnerable and we connect with him. David is the grounded, loyal and stable character of the play and we most want to identify with his role. Part of our attraction to David also lay in the fact that Jack and the Giant are a little too close in portrayal- slightly hysterical and effeminate and David therefore stands out as different to the other two drivers of the story. A clearer differentiation between all three might have added another dimension to the overall play as the waving of the napkin was an obvious signifier we were now witnessing the Giant on stage but personality wise, there wasn’t much else separating them.
However, ‘A Boy & A Bean’ is a generally well-crafted narrative and it paces nicely. It is enjoyable without bowling you over. It tries to sit on the fence in regard to gay marriage legislation and perhaps needs to form a more definite opinion on which side it falls. It’s trying to be human without being political but it can come off as being indecisive. It either matters to these characters or it doesn’t. ‘A Boy & A Bean’ hasn’t quite made up its mind. This is further echoed in the ending that feels slightly unresolved, which I think is its intention but once again feels confused in what it’s really trying to say.
But Atkins is infinitely watchable and talented and the show was a very pleasant way to spend an hour. The more he has a chance to find the core of his intent and expression in this show, scaling that beanstalk, so to speak, he will have something well worth the climb.