by Colleen Murphy.

Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Wine Café 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 27 August 2013.
Sun-Mon 7.30pm Tue 2pm.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.

TICKETS: 0844 847 1652 (24hr no booking fee).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 18 August.

Splendidly performances in a sympathetic production of a gripping play.
They like Colleen Murphy at the Finborough, giving her a three-play season in spring 2011. Now, they can’t even wait for this play to have its world premiere in Murphy’s native Canada, so are mounting a workshop preview.

But there’s nothing half-prepared about this show, a two-hander with a couple of fine performances and tight, focused direction from Jennifer Bakst, who makes the most of Murphy’s wonderful writing.

The wonder isn’t in stylistic showing-off; but Murphy’s ability to inhabit characters in any setting and develop them so as to involve the audience in the truth of any scene. Larger matters emerge, but never take away from the immediacy of the situation or the fully-rounded characters.

Armstrong’s War could easily have been another ‘odd couple’ play, where two people who inevitably end-up sympathetic to each other start at opposite poles. But it’s not so simple. Both have battles to fight, and both are called Armstrong – not a bad name in a struggle.

But the battles are individual ones. Michael has returned injured from Afghanistan; Halley is 12 (numerical reverse of his 21), a wheelchair user following an accident, come for six sessions reading to him to earn a Pathfinder badge. His bitterness, accounted for by a battlefield incident, and her optimism conflict.

They are joined by the novel she reads him, Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage. When he shares the reading all seems on a happy course. But the book which to her is a pristine object guarded by the school librarian is wrecked as its words sear into his mind. Yet the soldier who began hiding under his bed ends looking through the window at the world, while Halley reveals her own repression behind the bright optimism.

Mark Quartley registers the doubts and fears Afghanistan left in Michael, in argumentative, agitated and reflective moments, while Jessica Barden’s remarkable performance catches the intelligent 12-year old for whom life seems easy, snapping at those who interrupt sessions with cell-phone calls, ever-busy and curious while listening to Michael and showing a vivacity that make age and wheelchair seem both vital and incidental.

Halley Armstrong: Jessica Barden.
Michael Armstrong: Mark Quartley.

Director: Jennifer Bakst.
Designer: Philip Lindley.
Lighting: Jack Weir.
Composer: Angus MacRae.
Costume: Maud Dromgoole.
Assistant director: Lilach Yosiphon.

2013-08-19 15:51:41

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