The idea of a story about a boy trying to become a train deterred me from wanting to see the play, however, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the performance and the engaging way in which the story was told. Originally written as a radio show, I saw Lenny – The boy who wanted to be a train. at Backwell School in March 2007, directed by freelance director, Sally Cookson, it was quite adventurous; with only one actor, Craig Edwards, using multi- role playing effectively to create each character in the story. It aimed to entertain and challenge its target audience of 13-14 year-olds, which it certainly did with the choreographed dance routines and although maybe too challenging for that age group to understand and appreciate the more stylised aspects of the performance.
The play is based around Lenny, a young child of around 12 years old who believes he can become a train if he eats metal screws. His fascination with trains is clearly linked with the bullying he suffers; he admires the strength, speed and power of a train. The train station is where he can voice his stress and insecurities through energetic screams near passing trains, escaping the concerns of a typical young boy who can’t live up to his idolised older brother Ethan, can’t defend himself against the other boys at school and can’t grow tall or strong enough to fit in. Lenny takes you through his struggles of everyday life and how he eventually finds his own strength to guide him through it.
The story explores many different themes from issues like bullying and building self-esteem to using both naturalistic and abstract theatre, and it provokes a variety of emotions. An upsetting scene was a scene where he was bullied. I think it was all the more upsetting because Lenny is on a block in the centre, isolated and defenceless from the bullies circling him. The actor does not physically play Lenny at this point who makes it all the more upsetting as you watch an empty block and can only imagine what he is going through but also observe how similar the empty block is to the empty lonely feelings he has. His innocence and vulnerability also makes the scene more heart wrenching as he slowly lifts his trousers up to reveal his pair of odd socks that he concluded was the reason that they had bullied him, unable to understand why he was victimised and worried about all the little things he did.
In contrast however, there are amusing scenes, like when Lenny is talking to his crush, Linda. In between the conversation the actor gets up runs around excitable and making siren noises, in the same way a cartoon would have elaborate actions. It was very endearing to see how Lenny reacted in a situation that many people could relate to and also amusing how a cartoon-style of acting was used to portray it. This technique was also used when Lenny was swallowing screws, another memorable scene, which at first was painful and horrifying to watch because it was naturalistic but then progressively more cartoon-like as the screws grew bigger and Lenny felt stronger and his desire to become a train grew. This technique was effective in making the play engaging and unique, the structure also achieved this.
The actor used cross cutting to cut from different scenes and times, so it was not completely in chronological order. The play began with Lenny at the train station, it then went back in time to illustrate the events that led up to that point, returned to the train station and the end of the play was performed, where Lenny discovers his older stronger brother is just as vulnerable as he is, and this helps Lenny a great deal with realising he can be strong for himself and doesn’t need to look up to his older brother or trains. I think this structure is effective in engaging the audience and telling the story because it emphasises the significance of how Lenny idolises the trains, and uses the visits for escapism.
Being a play from the ‘light travelling’ company, the set was expected to be simple, however I did not expect it to have been used so effectively and I was very impressed. The set was very minimal with only a table, stool, block and a mat, which the actor performed on. Despite such basic set, the actor made good use of it and the play was never interrupted by set changes, because everything needed was on stage and the changes the actor made were incorporated into the play itself. I also noticed how it as only ever Lenny’s character that used the props to change the setting of the scene, which highlighted how the play was from his perspective; he was narrating it.
Other more subtle but effective details were how the props and set was designed. The block was painted like a rusty metal colour, as though it was a railway sleeper. Also the mat the actor performed on was painted in a variety of colours, forming a geometric pattern, sets of parallel straight lines across the floor from side to side and diagonally. These lines were similar to railway tracks and during the dancing in the opening scene, Lenny ran around pretending to be a train, he followed those tracks as though he was a train. Throughout the play, when he moved around he followed the ‘tracks’. However, this changed when, at the end of the play, he finds his own self-confidence and independency, and now strong enough to venture off the ‘train tracks’.