STAGE REVIEW: The Olive Boy @ Laurel’s, Whitley Bay (10.05.24) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Ollie Maddigan’s one-man show The Olive Boy is a funny, lively, affecting portrayal of his life at 15 years old. Throughout the 70 minute run time we see Ollie combat the ups and downs of his teenage years, amplified by the struggle of simultaneously coping with, or often avoiding coping with, the recent death of his mother.  

For the first portion of the show the grief takes a backseat, deliberately masked by Ollie’s whirlwind, primitive take on adolescence as he navigates school, social status and sexual attraction. The highs of this period burst through the physicality of Ollie’s performance, one of the most commanding assets to the show. An energetic lead, seemingly buzzing with hormones, excitement and anxiety.

In quieter, more avoidant moments, such as scenes in which he finds himself confined to a therapist’s chair, his expressive face undermines any attempt to hold emotions back, reflecting his inability to do the same within himself. As the show progresses, the grief begins to bubble to the surface. Subtle changes in lighting and sudden bursts of sound indicate changes in time, place and mood as Ollie seamlessly slips between tumultuous environments and into caricature portrayals of supporting roles.

Despite the heavy themes, there are plenty of comedic moments. Some through the punchlines built into the retelling, but more so through how revealingly honest, natural and audacious the characterisation is. For the audience, as much as you are entertained by the bravado put on in front of classmates and family, you’re equally willing for him to drop it and edge closer to acceptance.

What feels especially unique about The Olive Boy is that it lives in and opens up the very specific interaction between coming-of-age and grief. Particularly in how this manifests for teenage boys and young men, in which both unprecedented experiences seem to work against each other.

The result? A highly-entertaining, highly-emotional rollercoaster of a show, the bumps of which are softened by a natural and sympathetic lead performance. Depending on your own proximity or personal encounters with grief and adolescence, you will receive this show differently. Regardless of this, there is something that we can all relate to, laugh at or be moved by in The Olive Boy. 

The Olive Boy continues its UK tour, with shows in the North East at Alnwick Playhouse on Wednesday 15th and South Shields’ Customs House on Thursday 16th May.

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