Friday, June 27, 2014

"Beyond the touchline there is nothing" & war

A sunny day plus England's role in the current World Cup now abject history combined to ensure the audience at Bristol Old Vic barely outnumbered the 11 actors for the Thursday matinee of World Cup Final 1966, but the onstage team maintained lively energy throughout this romp through footie fact & frolics relating to Alf Ramsey's famous triumph. The story starts in a church where the congregation gradually morph into the iconic roles of the manager and his team: Glyn Grimstead is impressive as Alf, and Tom Wainwright & Oliver Llewellyen-Jenkins as Alan Ball & Bobby Moore look very credible footballers to me, but the comedy from this ensemble mostly relies on what you could call counter-intuitive casting: Stewart Wright as a kind of Kung-Fu-Panda Jimmy Greaves,  Karla Shacklock a balletic Martin Peters, and Les Bubb an ingenious Hungarian manager.  I liked the device of explaining techniques direct to audience, but coaxing members onstage to model formations seemed overly pantomimey and slowed the pace to an unwieldy 2 hours 15 minutes (including interval). But this is a show of two halves, and if you’d left at half-time disappointed by time-wasting you’d miss a wonderfully inventive second act, nail-bitingly exciting despite the spoiler of historical familiarity.  This is another revival from writer/director Tom Morris who first staged it in 2004. Not over till July 12th.

Across the river at Tobacco Factory that same night there's another ten-year-on script once again now topical, similarly inspired by historical national conflict. Private Peaceful, adapted from Michael Morpurgo’s story by director Simon Reade, is closer to my area of interest if not my experience. One of the shocking statistics about the First World War is that over 3000 soldiers were sentenced to death for desertion, mostly youngsters traumatised by trench warfare. Shell-shock was a known condition and officers were treated for it in psychiatric hospitals, but their men were shot by firing squad. The programme notes are drama in themselves as Morpurgo records finding a telegram sent to a mother to inform her that her son had been shot at dawn for cowardice. Private Peaceful's mother must have had such a memento. Not one of Owen's 'children ardent for some desperate glory' when he joins up, he's only a naive fifteen-year-old caught in the the double whammy of a Sergeant Major's propeganda pitch and a woman's taunts of 'chicken' ~ probably closer to many men's reasons than the retrospective tag of patriotism. A simple, skilfully visual, script relates predictable horrors but William Troughton as young Tommo, quintessential country boy, brings passionate conviction to his journey from quiet shires to the Paul Nash nightmare landscape of trench warfare. Minimal props and atmospheric sound & lighting all enhance this profound performance: 100 minutes melts away, as the last night of his life does for loving, loyal, honest Private Peaceful.  Recommended viewing for any age, this is also on till 12th July. (image: Farrows Creative)

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