What a great surprise it was to find a new theatre not in theatreland. And one showing a truly amazing play.
Winding your way through the shopping mall, you arrive at the sleek new St. James theatre. A happening bar and brasserie greets you (always a nice way to start an evening). That the service wasn’t quite up to speed is maybe understandable – it was only their second day – but a glass of Prosecco at £6 was a very good value and even more enjoyable when it finally arrived. (A bit of noise management wouldn’t go amiss either, but then again, maybe the crowd was just particularly boisterous last night.)
Bully Boy, the play artistic director David Gilmore had chosen to open the season (and the theatre) with – was a brave choice indeed. The author is Sandi Toksvig, more known for her work in comedy, though nowadays is the chancellor of Portsmouth University.
The theme of Bully Boy is war and its effects on the people we send there: our soldiers. One of the two actors is Anthony Andrews, a surprise choice again, as he is mostly known after all these years as the very cute one in Brideshead Revisited. Though his career has included many serious roles since then, it was still a shock to see him in a wheelchair, an old,scraggy major, just called Oscar. Not cute at all, and with an expressive face full of pain, anguish and wisdom. His opposite, a young fellow soldier called Eddie, is played by Joshuah Miles, a brilliant discovery for the London stage. Talented and brave, he proves a true opponent and partner for the veteran actor. Through their relationship, Toksvig explores the recent wars in which Great Britain has been involved, especially the Falklands and Afghanistan, and the effect their tour of duty has on the soldiers going there. It was shocking to hear that more of them committed suicide than died in the Falklands. What a price to pay for what, exactly? one wondered with the actors.
The ethics of war are examined: the futility of a 'gentlemanly' war when there is no front and when there are no rules. How does one hold on to some values, and win? Heavy themes, but presented in such a clear and, dare I say, entertaining way, that I would very much recommend this play.
I also commend the St. James for having the guts to begin this way. May they have many years of intelligent and enjoyable productions ahead!