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A CurtainUp London London Review
Our Boys

It’s not how good the good times are, it’s how bad the bad times get and what happens then. — Joe
Our Boys
Laurence Fox, Matthew Lewis, Jolyon Coy, Arthur Darvill, Cian Barry and Lewis Reeves
(Photo: Geraint Lewis)
The press picked up the story at the beginning of last week. Hordes of autograph hunters were assembling at the Duchess Theatre to catch a glimpse of television and film stars Arthur Darvill of Doctor Who, Laurence Fox in the Inspector Morse spin off and Matthew Lewis who played Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter films. These three actors plus another three are in a revival of Jonathan Lewis’ 1993 play set in the Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital in Woolwich in 1984 where the British army would treat its sick. Some were wounded in conflicts, some in the Faulklands, other victims in Northern Ireland or of bombings on the mainland as well as army personnel or their families needing medical intervention. I remember myself as a small girl going to a Royal Air Force hospital in Ely as the daughter of a serving officer to have my nose bleeds treated. As the services have shrunk so have these specialist hospitals. The one in Woolwich was taken over in 1995 by the local health authority.

Into this ward comes a PO, a potential officer who is hoping to go to the officers’ training establishment at Sandhurst but who has a pilonidal cyst which means he cannot lie on his back and a side effect is the aroma of poisonous flatulence. Our Boys is not for the faint hearted or the delicate of disposition with the authentic language and sexually coarse humour of the barrack room. What the first act teaches us is the big divide between the men, the squaddies and the PO based on Lewis’s own experience in a military hospital at that time with such a cyst. Slang in the army for officer is “Rupert” and despite Oliver Menzies (Jolyon Coy) trying to be friendly and get the others to call him Oliver, he fixedly remains a Rupert in their eyes. He is also divided off by his awkward stance and the large wadding dressing on his rear.

The other patients are Keith (Cian Barry) a caustic and lively Ulsterman who has increasingly debilitating leg pain, long term patient Joe (Laurence Fox) nicknamed the Battersea Boner, a victim of the Hyde Park IRA bombing where he has lost a finger and his confidence although he is the glue that holds this group of men together. In wheelchairs are frostbite victim Parry (Arthur Darvill), Mick (Matthew Lewis) who has just been circumcised and Ian (Lewis Reeves) victim of a shooting by a sniper in Belfast which has left him damaged and unable to walk or speak clearly.

The culmination of the first act is a beer drinking game called Beerhunter after the film Deerhunter where one soldier pretends to be the Viet Cong torturer while the others take it in turns not to open a shaken up beer can. Think Russian roulette with near explosive cans of lager. Quite how this game ties in with keeping the fact that they have alcohol away from the hatchet face nurse, whom we never see, when the ward is sprayed with beer I fail to grasp but the game is fun.

After the interval there is a break from things sexual as the humour takes off in the anal direction. A betrayal is in the offing and fingers point at the odd man out, the Rupert. The ends are tied up and it emerges that Joe may have post traumatic stress as we consider how little the army does to support men caught up in conflict. There was a real news story this week about post traumatic stress disorder. It is about the soldier survivor who was riding the famous horse Sefton, which despite terrible nail injuries survived the bombing by the IRA in Hyde Park after vets worked hard to save him. This ex-soldier stabbed his two children, aged 6 and 7 and then killed himself after his marriage had broken down.

The performances are strong although I would argue against the casting of the naturally patrician Laurence Fox as a London local. Although he has tempered his accent, he never convinces as a South London boy, essential if you are to respect his natural leadership over the Rupert. The set looks authentic and although there are no visits from nurses or doctors or orderlies, the scene changes, mostly screen and prop shifting, are carried out by men in nursing uniforms.

Parry tells about a down and out they found sleeping rough in London with, under his coat, campaign medals and ribbons. He had became addicted to morphine given to him after being wounded in Korea and was banned from the Remembrance Day March. “He said the army was his home, his marriage and his mistress,” Did Our Boys have a strong message? and Would I want to see it again? No and No.

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Our Boys
Written by Jonathan Lewis
Directed by David Grindley

Starring: Cian Barry, Jolyon Coy, Arthur Darvill, Laurence Fox, Matthew Lewis, Lewis Reeves
Designed by Jonathan Fensom
Lighting: Jason Taylor
Sound: Gregory Clarke
Running time: Two hours 10 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0844 482 9672
Booking to 15th December 2012
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 6th October 2012 matinee performance at the Duchess, Catherine Street, London WC2B 5LA (Rail/Tube: Charing Cross)

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