Pros: Poignant, witty and competently executed.
Cons: Two actors playing over a dozen different characters: not a bad thing but the audience must be fully alert to keep up.
The Finborough Theatre is renowned for hosting some of the most compelling theatre around, and is certainly well deserving of its place high upon the list of best off-West End theatres. Despite it being a rather intimate setting, especially with a full house, Stony Broke In No Man’s Land was perfectly at home there.
The play by John Burrows, which is now actually in its second run at the Finborough, is multi- textured in the finest sense. Set during and soon after the First World War, it lays bare the reality of the time, the chilling conditions, the politics, the love, the loss, and the lust; and is told only by two men throughout.
David Brett and Gareth Williams are a delightful duo. They enter together, Williams on Violin and Brett on Banjo, and after a light-hearted song they become Percy Cotton (Brett) and Nellie Mottram (Williams), the figures around which much of the drama revolves. Percy is a loveable character, witty and with only the best intentions, which Brett plays brilliantly. The opening scene is telling of the relationship between Percy and Nellie. She, (though played by Williams whom is dressed in a suit the entire time) is depicted as a lavish woman, a lingerie worker who also claims to talk to the dead. She’s boisterous and out for all she can get though this doesn’t seem to phase Percy, who would do anything to make an honest woman of her. Percy is soon called up to take his war duties in Somme however, prompting Nellie to play away with PM David Lloyd George’s secretary, Sir Gregory Sleight.
As the play unfolds we are introduced to a number of characters which Williams and Brett transform in an out of seamlessly. Lieutenant Clement Monroe is one of them. Clement unfortunately catches a bullet in the forehead and is killed, busting Percy’s shoulder as he lands on him at the bottom of a ladder. Percy finds Clements diary, and in all his good doing, vows to deliver it to Sir Arthur and Lady Elizabeth Munroe, Clements’s parents. Upon his return to London however, Nellie insists on delivering the diary for him, but she doesn’t, and instead tricks Lady Elizabeth and Sir Arthur into believing she has spiritual contact with their late son.
This play really relies on great acting alone, as the set, consisting of a small table, a couple of crates, and a war telling poster board, is sparse. Suits with military medals are worm from the start and are not replaced to represent different characters. Aside from a war helmet, directed movement, mime and gesture is in place to suggest different ideas.
The dialogue is very well timed, often giving way to humor. Harder emotion such as being bereft, anger and heartbreak is portrayed just as efficiently however, and all that is told is felt. The fluid changing of characters and plot lines allows for many different tones, even for a few more musical interludes.
Ultimately this is certainly a play worth catching. Based on a time we are all aware of, plot threads and characters that are easily followed… and all the above is strung together with highly diligent crafting.
Author: John Burrows
Director: John Burrows
Booking Until: 26th January 2016
Box Office: 0844 847 1652
Booking Link: http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2016/stony-broke-in-no-mans-land.php