“Ok, so let me get this straight” fretted Phil as he wrestled to grasp clarity from Andrew over the casting of the military hospital-based play Our Boys.
“The one who lost his toes was in Doctor Who and the one who’d been circumcised was in Harry Potter,” came the barely disguised impatient response.
Phil was up to speed on Laurence Fox. He’s the one in that John Thaw spin-off thingy, married Billie Piper and is the son of James Fox (or perhaps Edward Fox if you saw Lorraine Kelly’s interview on Day-Glo Daybreak which became even more watch-through-your-fingers excruciating as LK exacerbated for her paternity gaff with profuse over-apologising).
Casting settled then and an explanation for the bevy of post-show lurkers at the Duchess Theatre’s stage door: apparently at least half the cast can boast something of a following.
Based on Jonathan Lewis‘ own army experiences, this 1993 play serves up five ordinary lads killing time in a military hospital (a convincingly hospitally design from Jonathan Fensom). It is 1984 and they are all sitting out (often literally) long-term periods of recovery from line-of-duty injuries or random illnesses.
Their jocular camaraderie is threatened by the arrival of a sixth soldier: a posh-ish potential officer (“Rupert” in the slang) Menzies (Jolyon Coy) who can’t sit down due to a large thing in the rear of his jim jams and who develops a tendency to leave room-clearing effluvious mementos in his wake.
Menzies also admits to laying copious amounts of toilet paper on the seat before going through the motions. If you wonder why Andrew roared with laughter at this, let us just say that it’s something of a Whingers in-joke related to certain OCD tendencies exhibited by one of the partnership and delicately leave it there shall we? Moving swiftly on…
Will our boys recover fully? Will they ever return to soldiering or will the army drop them? Will they get away with smuggling beer past the unseen ‘Nurse Hatchet’ (echoes of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest)? While we wait to find out, they bicker, they tease, banter and cajole, but basically they look out for each other until their loyalties are tested by an act of betrayal.
Director David Grindley ensures the action never flags and it’s very funny from the off. The script crackles and the Whingers cackled. A lot. If you’ve seen The Deer Hunter you’ll appreciate the hilarious scene just before the interval and if – like Andrew – you haven’t seen it you’ll still be laughing and wondering at the logistics of it. We’ve subsequently found out, but our lips are sealed.
And now we must bandy around the word ensemble. We really can not highlight individual performances as they are all so very good – all so wholly convincing in their roles that you care what happens to them. So a mention in dispatches for the other four performers too, Cian Barry, Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams in Doctor Who until last Saturday), Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom in Harry Potter) and Lewis Reeves.*
With its finger on the Paralympic zeitgeist, Our Boys is largely positive yet moving without overdoing its bleaker moments by becoming cloying or sentimental.
But most importantly – for us – it’s also hugely entertaining.
* We must pose the question: is this production the most Lewis-heavy play in the West End ever? Written by Jonathan Lewis, featuring Lewis Reeves, Matthew Lewis and Laurence Fox who is best-known for seven series of Lewis. Woolwich – where the play’s located – is very close to the borough of Lewisham. Jenny Topper, one of the producers of the play also produced Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – Virginia Woolf once owned a house in Lewes (E Sussex). Also, it was Juliette Lewis‘ West End stage debut in Fool For Love that started us Whinging in the first place. Spooky or what?