JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN
by Dalton Trumbo adapted by Bradley Rand Smith.
Southwark Playhouse (The Little) 77-85 Newington Causeway SE1 6BD To 14 June 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 1hr 20min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 28 May.
Blizkrieg script and performance are devastating.
Here’s a war centenary show that should turn every Right-thinking person puce. The title itself forms a riposte to a recruiting song, “Johnny get your gun, Take it on the run…Make your Daddy glad to have had such a lad. Tell your sweetheart not to pine”.
Such a lad as novelist and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo had read about, who was visited by royalty while he lay entirely incapacitated from First World War injuries. Injuries like those inflicted on GI Joe Bonham in Trumbo’s 1938 novel. Bradley Rand Smith has adapted it as a stage solo – which Metal Rabbit’s Southwark production presents with a blistering performance from Jack Holden.
Leaping around with an energy expressive of the racing mind of his character, Holden physicalises and vocalises a swirl of dreams and nightmares-within-dreams as Joe awakes to – that is, becomes aware of – his torn body, devoid of limbs and speech. Being all-American, he declares he can earn his keep as a glass-cased exhibit demonstrating the impact war brings.
But, able to communicate only by banging his head against the hospital wall in Morse patterns, he realises this will never happen and he will lie lifelong where he is.
A row of lights hanging behind the stage creates its own white wall beyond which little can be glimpsed, a void as impenetrable to us as life beyond his bed is to Joe. From here come gentle memories of his mother quietly singing, while he screams several times for his lost girl-friend Kareem.
Dream and unreality, the disconnect between physical fact and mental activity, flash through the production as Holden’s energy propels him round the stage, or as he stands immobilised, letting, for example, an arm hang loose while he considers life without limbs. Replies to his Morse messages come as distant, echoing knocks, making their way through his muffled perception.
Without a moment’s let-up, Holden’s vivid performance and David Mercatali’s precise, detailed direction set a pace which makes a tough, yet exhilarating, commando course to follow as the ever-present contrast between the state of performer and character concentrates and intensifies Trumbo’s language.
Joe Bonham: Jack Holden.
Director: Davis Mercatali.
Lighting: Christopher Nairne.
Sound: Max Pappenheim.
Assistant director: Mark Dominy.