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Posts Tagged ‘David Grindley’

I have a suspicion we benefitted from waiting until half-way through the run of this. There is extraordinary chemistry between the actors which can only have come from having performed it around 60 times; they are completely believable in their characters and their relationships.

Jonathan Lewis’ play is set in a military hospital in 1984. We’ve yet to send ‘our boys’ to The Gulf, but we have sent them to The Falklands and ‘the troubles’ in Northern Ireland are ongoing. The six patients have a range of injuries and illnesses, most but not all obtained in combat. The banter at first hides the true pain and emotional turmoil. The introduction of a ‘potential officer’ adds a frisson. In the second half it gets darker as one dies, three are discharged and one returns.

It’s a fine set of performances by six young actors with not a lot of stage experience between them. I was particularly impressed by Lewis Reeves who has to make the biggest transformation, Cian Barry whose role is an emotional roller-coaster and Matthew Lewis who is the butt of many of the jokes. The spin on the Russian roulette sequence from The Deer Hunter didn’t seem like acting at all. David Grindley, who did such a good job with Journey’s End, seems to have an affinity with military subject matter and his staging, on Jonathan Fensom’s hyper-realistic set, is very good indeed.

The black humour (and it is very funny) lulls you into a false sense of security so when it turns you’re really feeling for ‘our boys’. The length of time they seem to spend in hospital seem a bit implausible, but maybe that’s what it was like 28 years ago. It’s better play than I remember the original Donmar production in 1993 being and though I was somewhat sceptical that a West End revival was wise, I will eat my words, It’s good to have stuff like this bringing in Harry Potter and Dr Who fans (though they were a bit irritating in the talking and sweet rustling department at times on Friday evening!).

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It’s over twenty years since I saw the original production of this play. It had a very original structure – a biographical monologue interrupted by ‘illustrations’ by characters described in the monologue (some time later, Improbable Theatre did the same with real people in Lifegame) – and a performance from Peter O’Toole which added a frisson because you couldn’t decide if he was playing drunk or actually was drunk!

Jeffrey Bernard was a journalist, gambler, raconteur and professional drunk. He was notorious to those that came across him, but after the play was staged became what we would call today a ‘celebrity’. In the play he tells his own story whilst locked into Soho’s Coach & Horses overnight by mistake. He drinks as he does and some of those he mentions and some of the stories he tells are illustrated by a host of characters, played by four actors, who come on stage briefly to introduce the character or play out the story.

It was fascinating to return to it after 20 years with a different actor, Robert Powell,  playing Bernard. It’s slightly less shocking, but still very funny and the structure remains clever, fresh and perfect for the story it tells. Powell is clearly enjoying playing this role and does so very well, with almost continual eye contact with the audience and a knowing smile that make it feel like you’re in the pub with him. That’s helped, of course, by a realistic pub set from Jonathan Fensom and in our case by front stalls seats, again within wig spotting distance! Director David Grindley’s staging serves Keith Waterhouse’s play well and is pretty faithful to Ned Sherrin’s original production – no point in messing with something that worked.

I don’t know if this Bath originated touring production is intended for the West End but I think the timing is good and it could well succeed again; my two companions were new to it and enjoyed it as much as I did.

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