Pros: Some excellent performances from each of this four (wo)man cast and a topic that should be explored more.
Cons: A badly put together script with little thought, research or imagination.
A dark room and a musty smell. In the middle of the stage, in the Jack Studio Theatre, on his knees, in fluorescent orange, is a man. A black hessian sack covers his head. Who is this man? This man is Bashir Handi, a prisoner of war in Iraq who was tortured and murdered by a British female soldier who was simply ‘following orders’. Now, she stands trial in front of us, the audience and jury.
Written and directed by Jonathon Crewe, Toy Soldier tackles an incredibly current topic about the rights and wrongs of war. Set wholly in a courthouse, this short 60-minute play follows Donna Britten, a young soldier who falls for her commander, landing her in a world of trouble. Questioned throughout by a team of lawyers, we learn what really happened in Iraq and who is really responsible for the crime.
Throughout, there is talk of naivety, Britten was naïve, the lawyers are naïve, we are naïve. But the unfortunate irony here, is that Crew’s script is naïve. He must certainly be praised for his bravery in wanting to tackle such a huge topic but what he has done is oversimplify an incredibly complicated system. It is as though the script has been put together based on a few bad newspaper headlines and without any real research or consideration, making the performance appear unintelligent and seemingly lazy. When we go to the theatre we want to be challenged both intellectually and emotionally but what Crewe has done is give everything to us on a plate, leaving no opportunity for discussion or debate.
Even the stage design seems to have been rushed, with dull black sheets taped over desks and other bits of furniture to give the impression of a court. Andrew Lewis’ sound design is without thought or creativity with strange buzzing in between the awkward scene changes and an unauthentic sound of the jury’s chatter.
It is however, the cast who are the saving graces of the piece and work hard to keep the ship afloat. Bianca Beckles-Rose is excellent and really does hold her own giving a very believable performance as Britten. Louisa Smith gives a fine performance as the inexperienced defence lawyer and Stanley Eldridge and Bruce Kitchener help to keep up the high standard of acting.
Unfortunately, the script just lets the show down. The theme sure is a fascinating topic and for that I most certainly salute Jonathon Crewe for bringing it to the theatre’s attention: it is definitely a subject that should be visited, questioned and explored more. But with lazy decisions and an obvious plot, unfortunately, Toy Soldier was a disappointment.
Written and Directed by: Jonathon Crewe
Producer: Who Said Theatre
Box Office: 0333 666 3366
Booking Link: http://www.brockleyjack.co.uk/portfolio/toy-soldier/
Booking Until: 8th October