The return of award-winning playwright Luke Barnes to Liverpool was the perfect excuse for a catch-up about his new play, Lost Boys, which will run at the Unity Theatre before touring community venues around Merseyside and I was intrigued to discover what it was about with Barnes more than happy to elaborate.
Lost Boys, a new commission for the National Youth Theatre, is a humorous and heartfelt play about growing up in a northern town, exploring how where you are from and gender identity affects who you are, who you become, and your mental health. Barnes in particular focuses on the idea of what it is to be a man and the pressures of playing up to a behaviour pattern that is no longer recognisable in a rapidly shifting landscape or accepted in society at large.
Although the emphasis is on an industrial, working-class northern background, Barnes is keen to highlight that the behaviours remain the same in London but are just manifested differently given the contrasting economic climate. He is keen though to keep his emphasis on the north where the lack of cultural capital and immediate role models can mean there is little space for reflection for young men who, unable to navigate life in its modern form and resistant to admitting vulnerability or communicating feelings, will inevitably ricochet in their relationships with women.
Barnes’ driver was an awareness of and willingness to explore the issues through workshops with young people which led to the writing of the play although this was not in itself in the typical sense: he sees himself as the conveyor of an idea but needs to work with others to allow a piece to develop to its best potential. In real-time this translates to articulating ideas across a couple of pages and then following an iterative process with principally the director – in this instance Zoe Lafferty – to develop the script as a whole. It certainly avoids the usual issue of directorial interpretation of the written word although Barnes is keen to add jokingly that if a play goes down well he will happily take the credit for the script whereas if it doesn’t he will let the blame lie squarely with the director!
And Liverpool? Well Barnes hails from Formby but has recently returned to Liverpool to be near to family, find space to work in, and adopt a slower, more natural pace to life than London affords. In respect of the play, Barnes’ closing comment says it all really: ‘I think it’s the most important conversation we should be having as young people making art and I think Liverpool is the place to do it. I think Liverpool’s mentality, its social values and its joy and its fun is the ideal place to be having it in this form. I’m really proud to be doing it.’
Well, I’m certainly looking forward to the conversation that ensues, and which can only be a good thing for the next generation moving forward.
Lost Boys performs at Unity Theatre 4th – 11th September, tickets are priced at £14 (£10 concessions and NYT members) and are available via https://www.unitytheatreliverpool.co.uk/whats-on/lost-boys-19.html