by William Ivory.
Park Theatre (Park 200) Clifton Terrace Finsbury Park To 11 May 2014.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.
Runs 1hr 50min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7870 6876.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 26 April.
Praised play achieves its finest form.
When William Ivory’s play first toured in 2010, and was subsequently revived the following year in Coventry, reviewsgate.com critics both admired it and felt it was too long. About half an hour too long, one suggested.
Here, shorn of slightly over that half hour, it is again, recast but with very largely the same production team. And it’s now a well-proportioned story, in which two generations meet when new carer David arrives for his first meeting with the sick old man who was once a gunner on a bomber, flying raids over wartime Germany.
It was a dangerous job being tail-gunner, shut away in isolation fending-off defending German fighter-planes. But the guilt and regret which underlie Jimmy’s abrasive manner, and which emerge in his dreams, where he takes up his zimmer-frame like a machine-gun pounding the night sky, aren’t the outcome of obvious fears.
Rather, it’s the guilt of someone surviving a plane crash. As such it reflects the intensity of wartime relationships between men under extreme pressures, some who survived, others who died. For the survivors there could be no comparable companionship, with men or women.
Well-handled and slowly revealed as this is, Ivory’s play is made stronger by its younger character. At first there’s a comic edge to David’s nervousness as he approaches his second, difficult client, having just lost his first. And Jimmy’s brusque, foul-mouthed comments add to the comic sense. But they acquire a serious aspect.
Obscenity is Jimmy’s initial defence against any new relationship challenging the intensity of his wartime experience, while David’s religious benevolence is discovered to have uncertain foundations, raising the question of the nature of faith, hope and trust.
This is efficiently played by Steve John Shepherd. But it is the subtlety and variety of James Bolam’s Jimmy that lights-up the evening. Realistic detail and profound feelings arise seamlessly in a character whose complexity eventually becomes movingly apparent.
Laura McEwen’s set suggests the aircraft where Jimmy’s life is encased, an overhead fan revolving between scenes creating propeller-like shadows, as the circular window, lit from behind, suggests the moon of those raiding nights.
Jimmy: James Bolam.
David: Steve John Shepherd.
Director: Matt Aston.
Designer: Laura McEwen.
Lighting: James Farncombe.
Sound: Damian Coldwell.
Choreographer: Emma Annetts.
Associate designer: Dean Sudron.
Associate lighting: Alyssa Watts.
Associate sound: Dominic Bell.