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A CurtainUp London Review
But It Still Goes On

"Sex is fear of personal extinction. Fear filled the brothels in France." — Dick
But It Still Goes On
Alan Cox as Dick Tompion and Victor Gardener as David Cassells (Photo: Scott Rylander)
Robert Graves had a traumatic war and in 1916, he was so badly wounded that he was reported as dead to his family. Having survived the war, he also recovered from Spanish influenza in 1918 just as he was due to be demobbed. This was the third example of his charmed life having survived double pneumonia after measles aged seven. His autobiographical book about his schooldays and the war Goodbye to All That was published in 1929. This book succeeded as a soldier's account of his experiences and his feeling that the generals and government financiers had let down the men in the field of conflict.

After the success of RC Sherriff's play Journey's End in the West End in 1929, a theatre producer, Maurice Browne, commissioned Graves to write a play that would attract a similar audience to Journey's End here. Graves wrote But It Still Goes On, an account of the damage done to the lives of so many who survived the war. This wasn't an unusual response in the years following the Great War, as people questioned the meaningless slaughter in the trenches and by 1930 in the midst of the depression were seeing the seeds of another world wide conflict.

Maurice Browne refused to stage But It Still Goes On telling Graves that if he did, the play would do "infinite harm" and "prejudice your public against your future work." We have London's tiny pub theatre, the Finborough, under artistic director Neil McPherson, which so often punches above its weight, to thank for this first staging of Robert Graves' play a hundred years after the end of the First World War.

Much of But It Still Goes On would appear to be autobiographical with Alan Cox playing Dick Tompion, a soldier in the First World War and a less successful writer than his father, Cecil Tompion (Jack Klaff). The first scene shows two dancing the Black Bottom in the frivolity of the cocktail swigging 1920s. Dick is meeting his comrade at arms architect David Cassells (Victor Gardener). Cassells is a very handsome and charming man who attracts both sexes but who has been decidedly homosexual since his days at school. When Dick fires his service revolver he scares the very life out of shell shocked Cassells.

Hovering in the entrance to Doug Mackie's service field tent with its solid wooden and canvas military chairs is a young man in uniform from the First World War. This is 91 Evans (Joshua Ward) whom Dick Tompion tells us he shot dead in the trenches after the young man broke down and couldn't bring himself to go over the top. Dick also divulges that he later turned the pistol on himself but his suicide was thwarted by a shell landing from the enemy. The figure of the younger man 91 Evans reminds us of the trouble Dick feels at his actions.

So we have here two men directly hurt in the war and feeling angry, especially the caustically witty Dick. Dick's sister Dorothy (Rachel Pickup) is a doctor who wants to marry but knows that she will be expected to give up medicine in favour of becoming a housewife. We have to remember that this generation of women lost in the war most of the men they should have married which has left them too without an expected role. Her friend Charlotte Arden (Sophie Ward) bats for the other side but seeks marriage to dastardly Dick.

Dick and Dorothy's writer father Cecil has a rivalry with a Welsh writer Richard Pritchard (Hayward B Morse) and Cecil is tricked by Dick into thinking Pritchard has shot at him. Cecil has a long term girl friend dating back to before his wife died. She is Elizabetta Behrens (Charlotte Weston) a vivacious, flirtatious and elegant blonde with a heavy Germanic accent. Both Pritchard and Elizabetta's characters are lighter comic relief.

Director Fidelis Morgan has edited Graves's text and added some dialogue but none of it struck me as odd or out of place. The performances, as we have come to expect from this director, are tip top and believable. I won't give any more away of the plot except to say that four people end up in unhappy marriages to unsuitable people.

Alan Cox as Dick has all the nuance of a man embittered by the war experience and we are looking at a highly talented actor conveying quiet rage. Although he can be spiteful, Dick, full of dichotomy, is also admired for his wit and obvious intelligence. Victor Gardener as David Cassells looks beautiful and lurks to feed his then, illegal, sexual needs in dark dives. Sophie Ward too, with her father Simon's eyes, conveys desperation and conflict.

The casting for this production has chosen the promising next acting generation of the already celebrated: Brian Cox's son Alan, two of Simon Ward's children, Sophie and Joshua, and Ronald Pickup's daughter Rachel.

Set in 1932 across five months, But It Still Goes On looks back at the "War to end all wars" with a creeping realisation that this prediction was all military skulduggery. Cecil Tompion represents the impatience and lack of understanding of the older non-involved generation of the trauma of war on the next generation. But there are also moments of quirky humour to lighten our evening.

The Finborough's gift for reviving rare plays and presenting perceptive productions of them is unsurpassed and a source of real delight.

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But It Still Goes On
Written by Robert Graves
Edited with additional dialogue by Fidelis Morgan
Directed by Fidelis Morgan
Starring: Alan Cox, Victor Gardener, Jack Klaff, Rachel Pickup, Sophie Ward
With: Hayward B Morse, Claire Redcliffe, Joshua Ward, Charlotte Weston
Set Design: Doug Mackie
Costume Design: Lindsay Hill
Lighting Design: Matthew Cater
Sound Design: Benjamin Winter
Choreography: Steven Harris
Running time: Two hours 05 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 01223 357851
Booking to 4th August 2018
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 13th July 2018 performance at the Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED (Tube: Earls Court)
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