Directed by David Grindley
Pros: A brilliant ensemble piece with strong performances all round by talented, up and coming actors.
Cons: The continuity was confusing… but that might just be me!
Our Verdict: This play is as relevant today as it was in 1993. It should provide laughs and tears in equal measures and is a delight to watch.
|Courtesy of Tristram Kenton for The Guardian|
One of the true pleasures that living in London has given me over the last few years is the opportunity to get very up close and personal with some of the brilliant acting talent on offer. The price: some rather early rises for day tickets. The trip to Jonathan Lewis’ play Our Boys was another one of these early morning rises, although we rather over estimated how popular the show would be and were there an hour and a half before the next queuer. Fail.
Anyway, despite the colossal wait, and much to our relief, the play was actually very good. The reason we’d anticipated longer queues was that the cast features some rather famous faces. We’ve all been at shows where the main draw for half the audience is what’s-his-name from the most recent blockbuster, and that was what we were expecting to find here – Dr Who fans after Arthur Darvill, Harry Potter fans after Matthew Lewis, and Lewis fans after Lawrence Fox. OK, maybe less of the last one. But still, three big names. And none of them disappointed.
All six leads in this show had individual moments to shine, but for me it was Fox, Cian Barry and Jolyon Coy, playing the only officer amongst a crowd of normal soldiers, who really shone through. Fox’s Joe was, on the surface of things, the man with the least wrong. He seemed to be holding together the best, but as we discover in one of the most heart-rending last scenes I’ve seen on stage, what is really happening is the agonisingly slow recovery of a man traumatised by an IRA bomb. Barry gave us Keith, a man whose pain and numbness we were slowly led to believe was psychosomatic. Watching this fully grown man phone home, like a child on a school trip, was devastatingly hard. These really were the boys of the title, not the men their bravado made them out to be.
Coy is brilliant as the observer, that new person in a situation through whose eyes we were able to observe this diverse group of young men. Matthew Lewis was once himself in this position, and you can see how the play is sculpted around his arrival and exit. His return, sometime after his first admission to the hospital, did leave me a little confused – how much time had passed in the interim? In some ways it seemed a great deal of time had gone by and yet for some of the characters so little had changed. Perhaps that was the point, and we were meant to grasp that for some of these men this was it, the army would never take them back, they would never truly heal. They were past their sell by date and still in their twenties. Tragic.
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. In fact much of the play was broad, dirty humour. And glorious it was too. From the hilarious game of Beer Hunter from which I feared we, in the front row, weren’t going to escape from without being sprayed with beer to the crass, laddish humour that is dispersed throughout the rest of the play you never forget that this is a group of young men who are bored to the back teeth of hospital, and will do anything, invent any elaborate game to entertain themselves.
The design was flawless. As someone who spends a lot of time in hospitals I couldn’t help but giggle at the small piece of tinsel taped into the corner of one window. The ward was beautifully detailed, the lighting clinically accurate and the music choices of the sound designer were superb. The Jam, Joy Division, Billy Bragg and Elvis Costello help transport us back and, let’s be honest, give the show one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard for ages!
This play is a tragic comedy in the purest sense. As we watch these young men mess around, tease each other and hide their forbidden beer in their bedside cabinet you can’t help but be constantly reminded that they aren’t boys in a dormitory but young men injured fighting for their country. You’ll laugh, I have no doubt of that, but when you’re lying in bed it won’t be the jokes that play on your mind, but the tragic state these blokes wound up in.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
Our Boys runs at the Duchess Theatre until 15th December 2012.
Box Office: 0844 412 4659 or book online at