Oh, “Our Boys” The Pure Essence of Wartime Consequences

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Our Boys, set in 1984, concerns five young soldiers, where veterans of the troubles are among them in Northern Ireland and the Hyde Park bombing. The piece is set in 1984 in Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital’s quiet ward where the five soldiers are recovering from injuries which range from Northern Ireland bullet in the head to toes which were lost to frostbite where an officer forbade sodden boots removal. If you are interested in reading more about different pieces you can read the theatre essay.

They are killing time in a quiet ward with bragging one-upmanship, television, pornography, games, and cynical humor as their only mental escape means. Tensions arise where a young officer is billeted with them, and savage war of words, bitter, only disguised as humor, wages against him.

Following a hilarious birthday party, where there has been smuggling of several cans of beer, the six find themselves facing misconduct charges – and this is when the fighting starts. Fired by Jonathan’s anger at Army neglecting its wounded heroes, the play portrays a perceptive and surprisingly tender work.

The play is fired by the principled indignation of the shabby way in which those suffering for our security find themselves treated. The play’s director David Grindley in conjunction with the team behind the recent R C Sherriff’s First World War classic Journey’s End’s highly successful production revives the play.

The bickering. The crude banter, and the jokey wind-ups as the group kill time performed with a terrific spiky verve by a crack cast; This includes Dr. Who fame’s Arthur Darvill, as a chippy balefully Parry, the frostbite wheelchair-bound victim, and Laurence Fox as the fast-talking. Cocky Joe whose underlying sadness and intelligent anger feel like the play’s beating heart.

The Pure Essence of Wartime Consequences

Our Boys, a hit in 1995 at the Donmar Warehouse, is a new revival balancing brash humor together with some moving moments, ultimately lacking punch. Jonathan bases Our Boys play on his army scholar experience. He was diagnosed with a pilonidal sinus, which is an infected tract below the skin beneath the buttocks just before he was due at Sandhurst. The officer-in-training in ‘Our Boys’ play suffers the same condition.

With compassion and insight, Lewis shows that sexist banter and army bravado often mask fragility. The patients, who are dressed in birthday cardboard hats, with beer cans, play Russian roulette. The five veterans, including the one, caught up in the Hyde Park bombing in 1982 and Falklands conflict, portray a deep camaraderie. Whenever someone has nightmares, another quickly comforts him, and tucks him up in bed in a way that he is “as snug as a bug in a rug.” Nightmares from the nightly itinerary for the six men who, scarred both mentally and physically by the atrocities faced in the field, are trying to come to terms with their injuries.

The lonely veterans are clutching at any affection sign, which includes letters from strange amorous females. They feel lost off the field. Cian Barry, playing Keith with vitality and spark, is feeling abandoned by his doctors who believe his knee pain is psychosomatic. Non-disabled Joe played by Laurence Fox appears to have no chance of being discharged. Only Ian, who is the most severely paralyzed at the beginning, recovers his sense of worth and health.

Lewis portrays great compassion for his characters. The pranks in the play are not malicious, and the potential officer joins the ward, “the Rupert,” is known for the prejudice that he is stuck-up and upper-class and turns out to be decent, a little prissy. Ian’s birthday party is the main action, and the veterans are smuggling in beer. Upon getting caught, they make the assumptions that “the Rupert,” called Oliver, has snitched.

Based on The Deer Hunter, the party involves a terrifically performed game of Beer Hunter, the 1978 film about steelworkers in the Vietnam War. The patients are dressed in cardboard birthday hats, play Russian roulette using beer cans, shake some before pulling the rings open, like triggers, close enough to their head. The actors are in perfect sync sparking off each other.  Crude humor sings out.

Arthur Darvill, is the Parry real star, a veteran with frostbite. Stealing scenes with jokes, he has a real presence and sharpens. Lewis Reeves, like Ian, brilliantly portrays his character’s struggle moving with every twitch, conveying his mental anguish by his silence and stares. In contrast, the lanky Fox; the cousin of Emilia and the son of James Fox, disappoints. Maybe he is getting familiar with the theatre after a six-year break, but in both delivery and movement, he seems self-conscious.

Joe’s violent outbursts approaching the end also appear to lack an internal strength and superficial. David Grindley’s fluid direction utilizes a detailed but straightforward ward set, with its green-sheeted beds, green walls, and white angle poised lights. Subtle touches, which include a regular, quiet beep in an early night scene, aid convey the hospital setting bubble.

Our Boys is therefore moving, funny, and most importantly humane. The pure essence of wartime consequences gives it a real impact.

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