Review by Shelley Hampton
They say ‘War is hell’, ‘It’s not a game’.
In this wonderfully clever production, Our Boys, Dave Simms has masterfully opened a window into the effect of the horror of war on five veterans.
This is probably one of the best productions I have seen from Adelaide Repertory Theatre Company for multiple reasons – the talent and presence of the actors, skilful directing and a moving insightful story.
This latest offering from Simms is a rollercoaster of emotion. Moments of absolute ‘split your sides’ hilarity lift the audience in spirits and joy, only to be thrust down again into the harsh reality of war. We are so desensitised today by these conflicts as they pervade our existence through television, film and social media, that we have forgotten the very human costs that linger long after the bombs have dropped or the gun has fired.
This play by Jonathan Lewis was first performed in 1993. We find ourselves in a military hospital in Woolwich in 1984. We are immediately drawn into the comic banter and game playing of the bored patients – Joe, a soldier of the Blues and Royals injured in the 1982 IRA Hyde Park bombing (Adam Tuominen), Keith (Leighton Vogt), a Northern Irish private with a leg injury, Ian (Patrick Marlin), recovering from a gunshot wound to the head, and others, not so heroically-injured – Parry (James Edwards), who has lost some toes to frostbite, and Mick (Nick Duddy), who has been circumcised due to an infection.
Their fun and game playing is interrupted early by the arrival of a “Rupert”, Potential Officer Menzies (Lee Cook), who is there for an operation on his bottom before proceeding to Sandhurst. This provides some of the very interesting dynamics of the play, where the ‘them and us’ attitudes of the lower ranking patients come into play. At times the interactions are good humoured but there is always an undercurrent war of words.
Jonathon Lewis, the writer, certainly knows how to capture the sharp sarcastic one liner humour of the soldiers and Simms keeps the pace rolling all the way through to the heart wrenching ending.
Whilst this is a brilliant ensemble piece; each player deserves mention for their outstanding performances. Adam Tuominen again shows Adelaide why he is such an ‘in demand’ actor. His ability to inhabit a character and take us on a personal journey is extraordinary. This is by far the best role I have seen him in – from his swaggering ‘playboy style’ attitude at the start to the gut wrenchingly beautiful monologue at the end of the play. Lee Cook again shows his versatility, playing POM in a perfect clipped British accent. His portrayal of the seemingly weaker character who is the butt of the soldiers’ jokes is masterful. Nick Duddy creates an innocent Mick – youthful and gullible and physically in character throughout the play – noticeable even in the scene changes. A very amusing and watchable performance. Leighton Vogt as Keith is impressive and poignant. His comic timing, particularly in the “Beer Hunter” scene, is impeccable. James Edwards is a wonderful talent and his ‘sit down comedy’ is clever and fast. Patrick Martin deserves special mention – what an amazing performance! His ability to communicate the intense frustration of this young soldier trapped in a disabled body, deliver clear lines whilst appearing to slur speech, and ‘heal’ throughout the play is a privilege to watch.
The set, also designed by Simms, is a simple hospital room with four bed bays and allows the richness of the acting to take the limelight. The use of an oversized window is clever – allowing us to see ‘into’ the real effect of war.
Lighting by Jason Groves is clever – subtle in places and using sharp angles in others to focus on the varying emotions of the scenes. The final lighting during Tuominen’s monologue is intuitive.
This is a sharp, strong, moving piece of theatre not to be missed. Whilst brilliantly funny in places, it also has the right amount of poignant emotional moments which remind us of the real price paid by ‘Our Boys’.