Bully Boy – September 2012


By Sandi Toksvig

Directed by Patrick Sandford

Venue: St James Theatre

Date: Saturday 22nd September 2012

I always find it hard to write notes on this sort of play; I was so moved by the story and the characters, not to mention the memories which are being stirred which I need time to explore and bring into focus, that it’s difficult to find the words to convey my experience of the performance. I can record that I found this a very good play, the performances by both actors were superb and we both feel that this new theatre has a promising future if this is the sort of work they’re going to be doing.

The theatre itself is much like the Trafalgar Studios, with steeply raked stalls sweeping down to the stage. There’s a little bit of wrap-around from the front rows, but mostly the audience are end-on. The seats have good straight backs (very necessary for us older folk) and firm padded seats (not as padded as I might have wished after an hour and a half) with adequate leg room. The loos were good, and the bar menu looks interesting if we feel in need of a snack. I have instructed my theatre liaison department (Steve) to join their membership scheme immediately.

The Simon Higlett set was simple and worked very effectively with the use of projections and sound effects to change the location and create the atmosphere of a war zone. Angled back and side walls were marked with straight lines which emphasised the perspective, and the side wall was leaning backwards as well. A window shape was outlined on the back wall, while the entrance way was in the side wall to the right of the stage. A desk, some chairs and various props were used, but mostly it was just the two men talking, or not talking, to each other – there was no escape or distraction from the truth of their experience.

The play deals with the effects of war on the young soldiers who are being sent out to fight these inconclusive and unclear battles on our behalf. It’s a tough subject, and hard to get people to watch. Sandi Toksvig has leavened the suffering with some humour, entirely appropriate for the situation, and that helped me to get through the hundred minutes of this performance. It’s sobering to be reminded that these soldiers are living through more than a hundred minutes of these events and can’t just get up and walk out after their curtain calls, and while this play gives us no answers it does pose many of the necessary questions. It should be recommended reading in schools, as is Our Country’s Good, another play being staged in this theatre next year.

I was aware during the opening speech by Major Hadley (Anthony Andrews) that he was also a soldier who had suffered from his experiences of war, in his case the Falklands ‘campaign’. The cause of his injuries took a while to come out, but when they did it created more of a bond between the young soldier Eddie and the older man. Eddie (Joshua Miles) even carried him up Pendle Hill to see the view, and it was clear to me that these men shared something which no one who hadn’t been through similar experiences could ever fully comprehend. I won’t go in to the details of the story, but it was woven together very well, with events such as an explosion being demonstrated in a simple manner – white light flashing round the sections of wall – and a mostly linear progression to events which made it easier to follow. The resolution was inevitable and moving, and there were many of us standing at the end to applaud – richly deserved I may add.

Much of this play will stay with me for some time. I was taken with Eddie’s comment early on that there was no ‘front line’, because there was no safe place behind this mythical line for the soldiers to go. This is ‘total war’ taken to extremes. I feel I have a better understanding of what these young men are going through, and it makes me sad and angry that such illegal wars are still being started by our politicians, but our troops are the ones fighting and dying, or surviving with great afflictions; if the politicians were put in the front lines I suspect there would be no more war. I now want to know more about the experiences of those living in these countries which have been invaded by ‘liberators’; sadly, the traumatic effects are not restricted to the combatants in these conflicts.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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