Actor Matthew Malone introduces The Boy Who Never Was, the new show from acclaimed theatre company Brokentalkers, adapted from the award-winning Icelandic novel by Sjón and premiering this October as part of this year's Dublin Theatre Festival.


As culturally significant and life-changing as Covid is, was, continues to be… when it comes to theatre, film, and television, we've so far been happy for the events of the last few years to keep their distance.

With that in mind, when Brokentalkers told me they were adapting a queer Icelandic novella, Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was, by celebrated author and screenwriter Sjón, it took me a while to appreciate the trojan horse that permeates its story.

It took a little longer for me to then accept that we might in fact be ready to talk about the last few years. Or at least, we might be able to begin to process them through stories that are strange enough to seem fictional, but recognizable enough to be familiar.

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The Boy Who Never Was - Brokentalkers talk to RTÉ Arena

Set amid the Spanish Flu of 1918, Moonstone follows a long-orphaned teenager, Máni Steinn, who traverses Reykjavík to watch every film that screens in the capital's pair of cinemas, and to discreetly meet gentlemen who can transactionally help him pay for his tickets.

I’ll try not to share any more about the story, because when I first read the novel I was struck by how its plot surprises the reader, both seamless and jagged at the same time. Although the premise sounds typical - the journey of a young person navigating adversity - the novel's outlook becomes kaleidoscopic, mixing discrimination, poverty and sickness, with fantasy, cinema, and sex.

With such rich material, and resonance, it's no wonder then that our directors Gary Keegan and Feidlim Cannon saw potential in exploring this work’s perspective and mystery on stage. As an experimental devised theatre company, Brokentalkers’ approach to making work is both wildly creative and extremely specific. We have spent days exploring the most memorable images from our experience reading the book, creating abstract dance, music, and scenes in response. Whereas on another day we had a debate about the exact angle of a mattress’s placement on stage.

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The Boy Who Never Was - Brokentalkers on their new show

From what I can tell, it’s this pendulum of creativity and detail that underpins so much of Brokentalkers' work, evident in their many shows I've admired in previous years: the surreal yet brutalizing world of The Blue Boy, the satirical but sad conversations in This Beach, and their chillingly moving investigation of the Irish prison system in The Examination.

As an actor now inside one of their shows, I'm hopeful that The Boy Who Never Was will bring about a similar effect when we premiere it in the Dublin Theatre Festival this month. That said, part of the thrill of working this way is that it's clear the piece has a personality all of its own. That and the fact that we have an outstanding group of collaborators.

If you're considering buying a ticket, I can promise humour, surrealism, nightmares, and maybe even a sprinkling of Björk. And, admittedly, it may well remind you of all we've gone through these last couple of years, to quote our script: "one of those moments in history where everything seems to be happening at the same time."

The Boy Who Never Was is at the Samuel Beckett Centre from October 12th - 16th, as part of this year's Dublin Theatre Festival - find out more here.