Review by Barry Lenny
The testosterone is high in the Adelaide Repertory Theatre Society’s production of Jonathan Guy Lewis’s play, Our Boys. Set in a four-bed ward in a military hospital in 1984, six men are being treated for various injuries, some from the Falklands or Northern Ireland conflicts, and one from the IRA Hyde Park bombing. To be more specific, the play is set in Ward 9 Bay 4 of the Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital, Woolwich.
Director and set designer, Dave Simms, has created a sensational piece of theatre, with an exceptional cast, a production of which the Rep can be justly proud.
Potential Officer Oliver Menzies (pronounced Mingies, with a hard G sound), a semi-autobiographical character, is among them, recovering from an operation on his coccyx. He has given up his private room, where, as an officer, he would normally have been placed, to a Major’s wife who needs an operation. His presence causes tension within the group of lower ranking soldiers.
Two of the men, Gunner Michael Speedy, known as Mick, and Fusilier David Parry, are regular visitors from a nearby ward. Parry is in a wheelchair having had all but his two big toes amputated because of frostbite, and Mick has reluctantly been circumcised under army orders and is suffering considerable pain.
Trooper Joe Morgan, 1st Battalion Blues and Royals, was the victim of the IRA bomb and has been in the hospital for over eighteen months, longer than any of the others, his physical injuries healing, but the post traumatic stress disorder still badly affecting him. Ranger Keith Malone is a Northern Irish soldier, an Orangeman, suffering from a mysterious problem with one leg, the numbness slowly working its way up from his foot to his body.
Rifleman Ian Cribbins, a RoyAl Greenjacket, is the last of the group, shot in the head while on patrol in Northern Ireland, wheelchair bound and making a slow recovery to normality from his initial state of immobility and slurred speech, while hoping to rejoin his regiment.
Anybody who has spent even a short time in hospital would know that they are rather depressing and very boring places. The men find ways to pass the time with vulgar, sexual humour, playing pranks, occasionally getting into confrontational situations, and breaking the rules. What begins as a black comedy gradually deepens to reveal the pain behind the joking, and the tragedies of the lives of these young men.
This is a very strong ensemble, featuring Adam Tuominen as Joe, Lee Cook as Menzies, James Edwards as Parry, Patrick Marlin as Ian, Nick Duddy as Mick, and Leighton Vogt as Keith. Each has built a believable, authentic characterisation, presenting people for whom the audience feels as their stories emerge from the banter and occasional angry outbursts. Aside from the individual performances, the interpersonal and ensemble interactions are strong, generating a captivating production.
This is a production that you should rush to see as it is as relevant now as when it was written. There are still wars around the world, and the threat of worse wars on the horizon, with combatants and civilians alike dying or suffering injuries and illnesses. These are the people that the armed forces, and governments, would like to forget, the collateral damage. Be sure to get tickets for this terrific piece of theatre.