Saturday, October 11, 2014


Shakespeare's Globe

Abelard, Anne Boleyn, and now Harold Gillies.
He's the pioneering plastic surgeon who gave new faces, and hope for the future, to the mutilated of the Great War. He's also, though this doesn't become clear till Act Two, the eponymous Scroggy [another triumph for Globe star James Garnon], bringing champagne and bluff good cheer to his patients in their darkest hours.
Brenton's play has other, more predictable threads. We follow young Jack Twigg [Will Featherstone], a London mudlark whose Oxford career is cut short when he enlists, with his posh pal Lord Ralph [Joe Jameson], in the London Irish. Much to the dismay of his proud, salt-of-the-earth parents.
It all happens so fast – an eve of embarcation ball given by Sir John French [Paul Rider, champers in hand, given to Shakespearean soliloquies], a night of passion with the Honourable Penelope Wedgewood [Catherine Bailey], the battle of Loos, the trenches, the gas. We see the VADs tagging likely patients [guinea-pigs for Gillies], whose fate back in Blighty is the focus of Act Two.
Brenton has a light touch, even in the unspeakable horrors of war. His Irishman [nicely played by Will Mannering] is a delight, and the friction between French and Haig [the excellent Sam Cox] is beautifully done. The royal visit [Katy Stephens gives us her Queen Alexandra as well as Jack's "silly" mum] and the Broken Doll drag act also work well as set pieces.
The absurdity of war is well caught, patriotism is questioned, and the fatal attraction of fighting in the front line is revealed as an inevitable motor of conflict. Jack can't wait to get back to the action – his future is left uncertain at the sudden end of the play.
John Dove's production is lively and accessible. The music, by William Lyons, uses a tiny band with cello and trumpet for the rousing ditties and the mournful elegies. And the deafening din of battle is superbly evoked, as is the tradition here, without electronic assistance ...

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