“If there’s one thing I’m good at it’s running away,” says Arthur Robinson breathlessly as he bounds onto the stage, before hurling his stolen loaf of bread into the audience. It’s 1941, and he lives with his family in a two-up, two-down in Birkenhead. His family call him Joe: “It’s quicker than Arthur. When you’ve got six children it helps to drop a syllable.”
Joe is a shy youth, too diffident to ask the bewitching Mary to dance. But when his best friend’s house is bombed he signs up, unable to just stand by and watch the destruction around him. After basic training he’s posted to Bombay, via Canada, Trinidad and South Africa, and finally deployed in Singapore to fight the Japanese.
Spending several years as a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp, Joe is put to work clearing forests for a railway in Thailand, where he battles with dysentery, hunger and despair. His family have no idea if he’s still alive: his mother petitions everyone from the War Office to Churchill, but has them search for Joe Robinson, not Arthur.
This true story of an everyday soldier in exceptional circumstances is written and performed by Robinson’s great-nephew, David William Bryan. It’s an outstanding performance that sees Bryan filling the stage with exuberant and seemingly boundless energy: he barely pauses for breath during the 75-minute solo show.
Joe Robinson’s journey is eloquently brought to life through the offstage efforts of Johnny Ryan, whose sound and lighting effects reproduce everything from a dance hall to a bombed-out street, from a capsizing ship to jungle combat. With the only prop being a chest containing Bryan’s costume changes, the ability to create a dozen convincing locations is remarkable.
Poignant and occasionally witty, Bryan’s writing and performance coalesce to produce an entertaining and resonant evening. Bryan’s charm is infectious: at the end of the show, he stands outside to thank each member of the audience personally. A tremendous one-man tour-de-force.
The show was at Alexandra Palace for one night, and can be seen at the New Wimbledon Theatre for one night on 10th June before transferring to the Edinburgh Fringe.
Written, Directed and Produced By: David William Bryan
Box Office: 0844 871 7615
Booking Link: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/in-loyal-company/studio-at-new-wimbledon-theatre/
Booking until: 10 June 2019, then transferring to Edinburgh Fringe