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Boys From The Blackstuff - Garrick Theatre Review

Reviewed by Annie King - Annie is from Theatre and Tonic and kindly stepped in to cover this for us.

Tickets were gifted in return for an honest review.

After a gleaming run up in Liverpool, James Graham’s stage adaptation of the wonderfully important 1982 tv series by Alan Bleasdale has landed in London for a limited 12 week run. The series, which shone a light on hard issues in a way not seen before on TV, is as important a message today as it was over 4 decades ago. Eerily highlighting the similarity in issues in today’s society, Graham’s play seems to have arrived at the perfect time. 

Barry Sloane in Boys from the Blackstuff. Photo by Alastair Muir.

Centred around 5 working class men struggling to keep afloat amidst the recession, the constant interrogation from the department of unemployment and hiding off the books work from the department’s spies, it is a battle for survival. 

Set against a projection of the real Liverpool docks, the staging feels immersive and energetic from the offset. Juxtaposed by brutal iron frameworks and infrastructures on the stage, the cold, hard staging wonderfully sets the tone of the piece, further highlighting the hardships the men are facing on a daily basis. 

Kate Wasserberg’s production is filled to the brim with energy and movement, perfectly punctuating the story. The first act is a continual flow of short scenes wonderfully transitioned between with songs reminiscent of sea shanties, which add an eerie tone to the story. Act two is composed of longer scenes and monologues, focusing in on the characters individually as they all begin to crack and succumb to the pressure force upon them all. 

George’s father wearily assists the conversations with each of the younger men, creating a painfully tragic open dialogue between the men. The ability for the men to open up about their pain and torment is so wonderfully performed but with so much pain and anguish it is an extremely important message that feels just as relevant today. 

Cast of Boys from the Blackstuff. Photo by Alastair Muir

Despite the play perhaps feeling more like a reflective piece, well situated in the 1980’s scenery, the underlying importance of men’s mental health and ability to speak out, is just as important today. 

Barry Sloane as Yosser is just superb, his tragic downfall is punctuated throughout by the repetition of the line “I could do that” - a line which starts as a humorous bit, quickly turns awkward to watch before eventually ending with the audience in total sympathy for the character once at rock bottom. Sloane’s performance is nothing but impeccable throughout. 

Nathan McMullen’s performance as Chrissie is heart shattering, a man too morally strung to take an off-the-book job despite his wife’s (Lauren O’Neil) anguish at not being able to feed her children. This scene is so beautifully painful, you can feel their pain and love for one another. 

O’Neil is hugely talented, perfectly assisting her scenes, playing roles of both total anguish and incredibly dry humour as the department of unemployment’s clerk. She perfectly highlights the play’s contrast of light and dark, and the complexity of the issues at hand.

The play is excellently scripted, both funny and heartbreaking, it is a whirlwind journey through the tumultuous lives of these men. This play will have you laughing, crying and fully engrossed from start to finish. 


Boys from the Blackstuff plays at London’s Garrick Theatre until Saturday 3rd August 2024. For tickets and more information visit

Nathan McMullen & Philip Whitchurch in Boys from the Blackstuff. Photo by Alastair Muir

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