The six young soldiers in Jonathan Lewis's angry, tragic 1993 comedy have swapped their khaki fatigues for bandages, pyjamas and a run-down military hospital in Woolwich. They bicker and moan, but there are broken men underneath their banter.
David Grindley directs a convincing revival, nailing the comedy to the wall and allowing the underlying sense of bitterness and betrayal to speak for itself. The ensemble cast spark off each other brilliantly: Lewis Reeves brings a great sensitivity to his portrayal of Ian, who struggles to control his body and his speech following a bullet to the head, and Arthur Darvill is superb as wheelchair-bound Parry.
The play suffers from its fragmented structure, and there are too many short scenes that splinter the dramatic tension, but it has a painful truth at its centre. The army hasn't weaponised these men, it has infantilised these soldiers who hide beer from matron like cheeky schoolboys, tug teasingly at each other's cocks and phone home to mum. The army doesn't send men to die: it sends boys.
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This play nicely captures squaddie banter and gives a taste of army life, past and present. It's funny but it also points a finger at how the 'top brass' have let the Tommies down since, well, forever. I suspect the original plan was to shift the initial mood of light-hearted micky-taking, mixed with mutual affection,in the early scenes to a suddenly more sinister feel, driven by the main character, played by Laurence Fox. The 'Battersea Boner' should have been a jack-the-lad geezer with a very short fuse when crossed, with the reason for that being revealed at the very end of the play. However, Laurence Fox couldn't quite deliver, with a big part of the problem being his accent, which was sometimes officer-posh, sometimes Bristolian, and occasionally mild estuary (he kept reminding me of Rick from The Young Ones)! The other actors all knew what they had to do and they achieved their objective admirably. MIDs to them, Jankers for Pte Fox.
Found this very disappointing, manipulative and already dated. More on my blog http://www.frontrowdress.com/2012/10/our-boys-duchess-theatre-wednesday-10.html
Excellent play - well acted with a rich mixture of humour and pathos. One of the best plays I've seen