by John McGrath.

Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Wine Café 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 16 June 2012.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.
Captioned 9 June.
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.

TICKETS: 0844 847 1652 (24hr no booking fee).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 29 April.

Well-aimed production of sharp-shooting drama.
In 1966, when John McGrath’s play premiered at Hampstead Theatre, England was in full flower-power mode. But anyone in their forties or above would have had active years during the Second World War, while Britain had retained overseas military responsibilities for years after; West of Suez still had resonance in 1971, when John Osborne used it as a title. And military conscription, as National Service, had effectively continued till three years before McGrath’s play.

So, unsurprisingly the armed forces and the younger generation’s reactions to them cropped up on stage, notably in Arnold Wesker’s Chips with Everything, four years earlier, or the wartime setting of Willis Hall’s The Long and the Short and the Tall, four years before that.

McGrath’s play contains elements from those – the attitude towards people from the enemy side, temperamental rebellion against the order of rank, and social divides.

But it’s a tough, independent piece, especially in its second act. While Wesker brings classes hopefully together, McGrath identifies an unbridgeable fissure between the working-class rebel and the aspirant to officer training, Evans. He’s in charge of the unit guarding the title weapon overnight in mid-fifties occupied Germany, lest the Russians purloin it.

It’s a purposeless exercise by a blind authority; and when the officers inspect, the most compliant squaddy ends up on a charge. And the wild-card O’Rourke is Irish Catholic, giving a national as well as temperamental reason for his anger, and rejection of Evans’ attempts to connect with him. His motivation becomes clear in O’Rourke’s final speech, where injustice and futility lead to self-destruction and the collapse of all around, in a futile society symbolised by the Bofors gun itself.

Charles Aitken’s O’Rourke is fuelled by a fury, seemingly burning through his innards, while Lee Armstrong catches the insecurity and self-interest behind Evans’ ineffectuality. There’s good work from everyone, and if Robert Hastie’s revival isn’t quite full-powered, it’s probably owing to the constricted space available, not giving the cast room for the interactions that would fill-out the dialogue.

It remains an increasingly gripping account of a play that builds determinedly to its startling climax.

Gunner O’Rourke: Charles Aitken.
Lance-Bombardier Evans: Lee Armstrong.
Gunner Flynn: Phil Cheadle.
Gunner Rowe: Michael Shelford.
Gunner Crawley: Mark Staley.
2nd Lieutenant Pickering/Cook-Private Samuel/German: Greg Tannahill.
Gunner Shone: Samuel Taylor.
SergeAnt Walker: Anthony Topham.
Gunner Featherstone: Alex Warren.

Director: Robert Hastie.
Designer: James Perkins.
Lighting: Nicholas Holdridge.
Sound: Tom Meehan.
Composer: Michael Bruce.
Costume: Sophia Simensky.
Dialect coach: Maeve Diamond.
Assistant director: George Ransley.

2012-06-04 11:40:15

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