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The Boy Who Never Was review: An always interesting, surprisingly funny take on Sjón’s Moonstone

Dublin Theatre Festival 2022: In expanding the story to include the recent pandemic, Brokentalkers don’t quite illuminate the novel that is their original source

The Boy Who Never Was

Samuel Beckett Theatre

Brokentalkers’ new production is an adaptation of Moonstone, a miniature historical novel with an epic scope by the Icelandic poet Sjón, from 2013. On this level the production is set in 1918 and charts the coming of age of a young, queer cinephile (the excellent Konstantin Stanchev) exiled from his homeland as it’s decimated by Spanish flu.

Aware of the way contemporary events will intrude on their historical ambition, the writer-directors of The Boy Who Never Was, Feidlim Cannon and Gary Keegan, have decided to embrace a present-day narrative too. To this end their adaptation is also set in 2022, when a group of actors are attempting to stage a play in the wake of the recent pandemic.

Brokentalkers use the tricks of contemporary postdramatic theatre in their staging. But this technically ambitious work is not quite fully realised on opening night because of a live-feed fault. The actors deal with the glitch admirably well

The opening scene brings together three members of the Pool, a group of experimental British film-makers who are the audience’s guide through the abstracted and fragmentary story being staged. They use the tools of their trade to illuminate the young film-lover’s ambitious work life: intimate close-ups and sultry slow fades (filmed by Eavan Aiken).

Brokentalkers also use the tricks of contemporary postdramatic theatre in their staging, with live feeds and intercut projections blended with direct audience address. This is technically ambitious work, but it is not quite fully realised on opening night because of a live-feed fault, which the actors deal with admirably well.


Sinéad Wallace’s lights and Sarah Foley’s costumes and masks maintain a sophisticated, uncanny aesthetic throughout, with Wallace’s work, in particular, contributing to a poignant visual finale, whose political point doesn’t quite feel earned.

In its current challenging form, The Boy Who Never Was is always interesting and surprisingly funny. Who knew there were so many ways to take an antigen test? The best scene is a hilarious musical-theatre medley in the middle of the 80-minute show. Performed by Matthew Malone, Maeve O’Mahony and Molly O’Mahony, it co-opts a queer cultural cliche to brilliant effect.

But The Boy Who Never Was doesn’t quite illuminate its source story, and the overall effect is one of want. The boy at the heart of the story remains a mystery, but there is ample room in the work as it is for Brokentalkers to find him.

Runs at the Samuel Beckett Theatre, Trinity College Dublin, until Sunday, October 16th, as part of Dublin Theatre Festival

Sara Keating

Sara Keating

Sara Keating, a contributor to The Irish Times, is an arts and features writer