Johnny Got His Gun

  • Theatre
  • Drama
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© Anna Soderblom

Jack Holden (Joe)

2/4
© Anna Soderblom

Jack Holden (Joe)

3/4
© Anna Soderblom

Jack Holden (Joe)

4/4
© Anna Soderblom

Jack Holden (Joe)

With the centenary of the First World War now upon us, there’s more khaki currently knocking around London’s stages than in a ’90s Gap advert. But despite the timing, you’ll find no flag-waving, Cenotaph-saluting sentiments in this stirring adaptation of Dalton Trumbo’s 1938 anti-war novel (adapted by Bradley Rand Smith and directed by David Mercatali), which views conflict through the perspective of its most disposable participants.

American soldier Joe Bonham is the rarest of war casualties – rendered deaf, dumb, blind and shorn of all limbs by a German shell, he regains consciousness in a hospital bed where he lays scared and confused, ‘the closest thing to a dead man on earth’.

Sole performer Jack Holden vaults octaves of emotion as Joe comes to terms with the extent of his injuries, his every bounce from despair to disbelief to nostalgic glee to all-out rage supported by sinister shifts of light and sound.

The decision to have Holden moving freely about the stage rather than strapped to a gurney is a wise one. The microcosm of Joe’s inner monologue becomes a sprawling, vividly rendered playground, offering philosophical quandaries at every turn. How, for example, can a person in Joe’s condition ever be truly sure if he’s awake or dreaming?

By the final 15 minutes, the show’s pacifist undercurrent has become a gushing torrent – Joe has learned to communicate, using his head to tap out messages in Morse code. Needless to say, as a man doomed to spend the rest of his life pondering the intangibility of words like ‘honour’ and ‘liberty’, he doesn’t mince his words.

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