Literatures, Languages & Cultures

Back on stage with Boys

The English Literature Play returns with graduate Ella Hickson’s riotous look at student life and friendship in Edinburgh.

Each year, English Literature at Edinburgh sponsors the production of a play staged by students of literature.

Photo of a woman reading a play
Isabella Forshaw, English Literature student and director. Photography by Aisling Clark.

For 2022, a team led by fourth year student Isabella Forshaw is staging Boys, a 2012 work by Ella Hickson.

Ella is a two-time graduate of the University of Edinburgh; she completed an MA Honours degree in History of Art and English Literature in 2008 and an MSc in Creative Writing in 2010.  

We spoke to Isabella about why Boys still resonates after a decade, and about the team's aim to showcase the creative talents of literary students.

Boys for the post-Covid era

Boys revolves around four friends faced with the prospect of graduating and moving out of their student flat, the messy kitchen of which is at the heart of the play’s action.

For Isabella, a final year student of English Literature, the claustrophobia of the setting resonates deeply with students who have experienced one or more years of university during lockdown.

As she explains, “Hickson uses the claustrophobic setting to intensify and explore the difficult relationships between the flatmates and the frictions that come to boil over the course of the play.”

Photo of the cast of the play boys with boys on chairs and girls standing
Publicity shot of the Boys cast. Photography by Aisling Clark, design by Innes Clark.

“In the context of the post-Covid moment, these tensions are never more prominent and the age of modern technology and social media only increases the stakes, as economic uncertainty destabilises the balance between peaceful oblivion and the grim reality of ‘adulthood’.”

A semi-immersive experience

Isabella describes Boys as “a play about partying, student life, and sex; [but] also about grief, toxic masculinity, and suppressed emotions”.

Talking about why she chose to stage Boys as the English Literature Play this year, she says “What is so beautiful about this play is the way Hickson manages to explore all of these heavy themes in what is, ostensibly, a funny play.”

“The conflation of comedy and morbidity is what I am so excited to engage with and draw out in this production, playing with the audience’s emotional responses.”

“I want this production to be a semi-immersive experience for the audience. They should be inside the flat, as though they are joining in the party, encouraged by the actors at various moments throughout the play; it should feel almost voyeuristic in the way they sit and watch the characters move, oblivious.”

A passion for theatre

A photo of three people wearing blindfolds in a rehearsal for a play
Boys in rehearsal. Photography by Aisling Clark.

Boys is being produced by amateur arrangement with leading theatre publisher, Nick Hern Books.

To successfully secure sponsorship, Isabella and producer Eloise (a postgraduate student of literature) had to go through a competitive application process, explaining why they wanted to stage Boys, and how they would manage the casting, rehearsals, staging etc., including within Covid guidelines.

Talking about the team’s goal, Isabella says “We hope that this production brings attention to the creative talents of the English Literature department, showing how the professors and courses have facilitated and nurtured our passion for theatre.”

“We want to illuminate how studying English Literature is more holistic than simply academic. As a University of Edinburgh alumnus herself, Ella Hickson’s success is itself a testimony to this”.

“For students of English Literature who attend the show, we hope to encourage them to explore their own creativity within their subject, and by the standard of our production we hope to reflect well on the department to those outside of the University.”

Boys, written by Ella Hickson and directed by Isabella Forshaw, is on at Assembly Roxy on 15 and 16 March 2022 at 7:30pm.

Find out more and book tickets for Boys

Are you interested in studying literature with us?

We teach over 30 single and joint MA undergraduate honours programmes in English and Scottish Literature and a full range of taught and research-led postgraduate programmes, from one-year masters degrees to PhDs in English Literature and Creative Writing.

Find out more about English Literature at Edinburgh

Related links

Read Ella Hickson's interview with Edinburgh Alumni