It starts with a meeting in a coffee shop: a shared table, the discovery of shared interests, swapped phone numbers and a nervous first date. It’s an everyday story of the uncertain path to love – following the likeable Peter, as he courts a potential partner known only as Blue. And like all burgeoning relationships, this one has its secrets… but it’s a larger secret than most. For Blue is androgynous, and won’t tell Peter whether they’re actually a boy or a girl.
The reasons for Blue’s silence are never fully explained. There’s a hint that they might be intersex, but the only motivation they actually express is the desire to avoid labels: a resistance to being defined by anything, including gender. As for Peter, who’s always seen himself as straight, the definition of his own sexuality suddenly becomes an unexpectedly confusing one.
Peter’s awkward attempts to raise the topic are an early source of humour, but later scenes tend towards earnest, unsubtle debates – where characters set out their personal manifestos, and then sit down to discuss them. For a play which sings the praises of thinking for yourself, it’s rather too anxious to spell out what its themes are meant to be. “I think it’s great to have this whole gender thing set aside,” declares one character. “You can’t ignore gender,” counters another. And so on.
And on the subject of labels and stereotypes – let’s discuss the fact that Ron, the script’s token unreconstructed male, has been given a broad Northern accent. Peter, we discover, used to be Northern too, before he realised he was liberal and moved to London. Oh please.
But despite its frequent heavy-handedness, Boy Stroke Girl still succeeds as a play – because it achieves the most important thing, building characters who make you care. Blue is especially well-drawn, thanks to a bold yet nuanced performance from Lai-Si Lassalle. She captures just the right mix of in-your-face self-confidence and hidden vulnerability, making Blue’s sometimes-frustrating demands feel like scars left by unknown past pain.
Peter, meanwhile, is an instantly likeable Everyman: unlucky so far in love, keen to be open-minded, but carrying fundamental assumptions he can’t easily leave behind. The minor characters are, understandably, rather more stereotyped – but we still get to know them well enough to hope that things work out for them in the end.
Boy Stroke Girl has an excellent premise, and a few dramatic highlights – including a confrontation between Blue and the boorish Ron, and a toe-curlingly awkward meeting with Peter’s parents. It’s well worth watching. But a little less talking and a little more feeling would make it more effective still.