Writer-actor Kevin McGreal spent much of 2004 hanging out in a back street of the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda. Shakespeare’s Grove is a well-known strip, where working boys hustle for business.

McGreal wanted to write a play about the life of the male street workers and, when he learned a friend was working on the Shakespeare’s Grove strip, he asked if he could join him to study what really goes on in one of Melbourne’s most infamous streets.

McGreal was soon spending every weekend in Shakespeare’s Grove, intrigued by the dynamics of the relationships between the boys, as well as their interactions with their clients.

My friend fascinated me most as he had always been such a shy and under-the-radar kind of person. The moment he hit the street, this amazing, strong and confident character emerged, McGreal recalls.

It was a role and he turned in a great performance night after night.

That 12 months watching from the sidelines turned into the play Shakespeare’s Boys, which is playing at The Crypt Theatre at The Cat and The Fiddle Hotel in Balmain.

The play tells of two male workers, one a 10-year veteran, the other a newcomer to the game, and the dynamics they use to make a living on the street.

McGreal stars as the older worker Ronnie, while Daniel Cunningham plays the ambitious Peter. Steve Browning plays George, the client who comes between them and changes the rules of their game.

McGreal says he was not short of material when it came to writing the play.

Sometimes the boys would come up to me and say, -˜Have I got a story for you today!’ and tell me their experiences, he says.

They told all kinds of titbits, with lots of real names and gossip, most of which I don’t think anyone would believe if I wrote it.

But they provided such an insight into how the characters related to each other and their very strong sense of community. For some, I thought it was a bit of an adventure, but for others it became a routine and then a habit.

Shakespeare’s Boys has played in Adelaide and Melbourne but, for its Sydney season, McGreal also took on directing duties for the first time and substantially rewrote the script.

Shakespeare’s Boys is on at the Crypt Theatre at The Cat and The Fiddle Hotel, Balmain. Bookings on 9810 7931.

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