At the age of 15, child actor Chris Cook who was appearing in Coronation Street, playing Mike Baldwin’s son had his contract cut short when he was caught in possession of cannabis. For this misdemeanour Cook soon found himself on the front page of every National newspaper, the Daily Mirror’s headline famously proclaimed, ‘What a dope.’ Now an acclaimed writer, the grown up Cook, using the surname, Hoyle, has used this headline grabbing incident to write an absorbing semi-autobiographical coming of age play. First performed nine years ago at The Deaf Institute with Suranne Jones in the original cast, The Newspaper Boy, has been revived as part of the Queer Contact Festival at Manchester’s 53two Theatre.
Set in 1992, the same year that Hoyle fell from grace, The Newspaper Boy, closely mirrors what happened to him real life. In the play, fifteen year old Christian Dibmore is the star of the nation’s favourite soap opera, Mancroft Walk, like Hoyle who had a VIP card for the Hacienda, he enjoys the benefits of fame until one day he discovers that his name and the details of an affair he is having with an older man are splashed all over the front pages of the National newspapers.
Christian’s fall is unwittingly orchestrated by Mandy, the actress who plays his on screen girlfriend. She introduces him to her gay older foster brother, Max. As Mandy opens Christian’s eyes to a new world including Manchester’s gay scene, he becomes intoxicated with fame and attention, eventually acquiring the confidence to come out to both himself and Max. The affair that develops between the two is sweet, tender and loving. Directed with great sensitivity by 53two’s Artistic Director, Simon Naylor, the scenes involving these three leading characters are compelling and skilfully acted. Hoyle and Naylor in casting Daniel Maley as Christian, Hollie-Jay Bowes as Mandy and Sam Retford as Max have assembled a trio of actors who are utterly believable throughout and excel in making their performances feel genuinely authentic and heartfelt. It is difficult to believe that Maley has only recently graduated from Drama School, on the strength of this performance he is clearly destined to enjoy a successful career and no doubt will follow some of his fellow cast members into appearing in real life TV soaps.
Samantha Siddall as Christian’s mum and Karen Henthorn as his Gran are superb as the dysfunctional yet tight nit loving family that try desperately to protect him from himself and the perils of the outside world. The scenes with Christian, his mum and Gran are wonderfully reminiscent of classic TV comedies such as The Royle Family and Gavin and Stacey. Hoyle’s crisp and witty dialogue in these is a real delight.
Presented by Hoyle’s new theatre Company, Dibby Theatre Productions, The Newspaper Boy is a gripping drama that is also an affectionate love letter to a defining era in Manchester’s cultural and social history. The quality of Hoyle’s writing and the performances rise above the sensationalist aspects of the story, to reveal a play with a genuine heart, relatable characters and an uplifting story that no one watching this excellent production will fail to be moved and inspired by.
The Newspaper Boy by Chris Hoyle is at 53two, Manchester until Saturday February 24th.