Review by Trish Francis
Our Boys is a play by Jonathan Lewis set in a military hospital in London in 1984. It is centred around a group of patients who include Joe (Adam Tuominen), a soldier of the Blues and Royals injured in the 1982 IRA Hyde Park bombing, Keith (Leighton Vogt), a Northern Irish private with unexplained leg numbness that continues to baffle doctors, Ian ( Patrick Marlin), who is recovering from being shot in the head on patrol in Belfast, Parry (James Edwards), who has lost some toes due to frostbite, and Mick (Nick Duddy), who has been circumcised and is suffering equally from post-operative pain and the mockery of his mates. This merry group of convalescing squaddies are soon infiltrated by a potential officer Oliver Menzies, pronounced “Mingies” (Lee Cook) suffering a pilonidal sinus, an infected tract under the skin beneath the buttocks, causing suspicion and hostility.
Written from his own experiences of a short-lived army career, Lewis focuses on the camaraderie and humour of the patients whilst also giving us a sense of the despair at the bleak prospects of soldiers no longer able to serve in the army.
Director Dave Simms has done a magnificent job in this Australian premiere. The cast are, without exception, excellent.
Tuominen as Joe, the fast speaking pseudo leader of the ward, shows great control as he alternates between prankster and protector with the perfect balance of compassion and mateship towards his fellow soldiers.
Vogt as Keith embodies the angst of one who feels that his physical symptoms are being considered by the medical profession as psychosomatic. His is a complex character and well portrayed with nuance and commitment to each of his wildly varying emotions. Marlin as Ian has the challenge of playing the most severely injured of the group, initially unable to communicate coherently but who makes slow and steady progress as he learns to walk and talk again. Marlin captures the mental anguish of each stage of the recovery.
Edwards uses comic timing to great effect as Parry, delivering his quips and comebacks with incisiveness that betrays his underlying insecurities. Equally amusing is Duddy’s portrayal of Mick which expounds his character’s naivety and hankering to belong, whilst fully utilising the obvious comic relief his infirmity provides.
It is, however, Cook that most impresses as the Officer or ‘Rupert’, so called because of prejudice and suspicion of his class and position. This is a role that could easily have been caricaturesque if not played with such subtlety and care. The audience gets a real sense of his inner conflict as he persists in his attempts to be one of the lads. His ailment does as much to alienate him from those injured on duty as does his Queen’s English and his prissy mannerisms but one can’t help but warm to him as he joins in with the banter and games the group draw on to alleviate the boredom of hospital existence.
Simms has paid great attention to detail in the setting of the play, from the supporting techno music, well selected background radio and tv segments and in ensuring the accents are authentic and consistent. It is an accurate representation of a slice of 80’s Britain and furthermore details such as the regular beeping of monitors in an otherwise silent night scene on the ward are evidence of the overall care that has been taken in this production.
The one small criticism is in the piece itself. Highly entertaining and frequently laugh out loud funny, there is nevertheless a darkness and edginess to some of the scenes that gives an indication of the true frustrations but these are underexplored in the writing. The concluding scene of Joe’s smothered fury and despair is far too short in contrast to the extended humour of the piece and seems a missed opportunity to bring home the true suffering of the brave soldiers represented.
A great production that should not be missed.
Review by Trish Francis