We all like to believe that wealth and success wouldn’t change us, or our relationships with the people closest to us – but how realistic is that when it actually happens? This is the question asked and rather gloomily answered by Hassan Govia’s Boujie, in which entertainment blogger Devin (played by Govia) invites his friends round for Friday night drinks. They’re suitably impressed by his posh new flat, but the evening turns sour thanks to a combination of Devin’s annoying neighbour Giles (Freddy Gaffney), a surprise visit from his sister Giselle (Cristal Cole), and a shock revelation about the true extent of his financial success.
The issues raised by the play are interesting, relevant and well presented, enabling us to see the argument from both sides and exploring the complex psychology behind human beings’ relationship with money and class. Devin feels compelled to keep acting a role that he no longer feels comfortable with just to keep his friends happy, and to conceal his true feelings about the working class background and family he’s left behind. His friends (Natali Servat, Peter Silva and Maria Yarjah) are quite content for him to live in a nice flat all the while they think he can’t really afford it, but take offence when they realise he’s actually done pretty well for himself. But Devin’s not afraid of passing judgment either; having elevated himself, he now feels he has the right to look down on anyone who doesn’t do the same, assuming rather blindly that we must all be motivated by the same ambitions.
As a script, Boujie keeps on giving; the play gives us plenty to think about both in the moment and afterwards as it explores race, class, personal relationships, and how each of us chooses to define our own success. There are, however, moments and details that feel a little contrived, and in trying to cover so much material, the dialogue doesn’t always flow as naturally as you might expect between good friends. The format of the play also includes a number of soliloquies, and while there’s nothing wrong with that – and all are very well performed by a talented cast – as the play goes on it begins to feel a bit more like watching a debate than a social occasion.
The characters are, for the most part, well drawn and we get to know each of them pretty well as the play goes on; in particular, we gain a good understanding of what drives them from a career and financial point of view. The one exception is next door neighbour Giles – despite an enjoyable comedy performance from Freddy Gaffney, his absolute lack of social or cultural awareness (particularly given what we later learn about his relationship status) feels oddly one-dimensional and unrealistic, jarring against the other, far more complex and believable characters.
A rather depressing outlook – despite his success, Devin doesn’t fit in with either his old friends or his new neighbours, and seems doomed to remain alone and miserable like a modern-day Scrooge – is saved by a touching final scene between Devin and his sister Giselle. Of anyone, she has the most reason to be mad at him, and although it feels like her refusal to give up on him may not be entirely selfless, it does at least bring the play to a rather more upbeat conclusion.
Though billed as a comedy, Boujie actually has some quite serious comments to make about how we let money and status dominate our lives, and prompts fewer laughs and more self-reflection than you might expect. It’s not perfect (yet), but this is a promising debut from Hassan Govia and Unshaded Arts, and with a bit of tightening in places it has the potential to make an even more powerful statement.
Boujie is at the Drayton Arms Theatre until 8th December.
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