STONY BROKE IN NO MAN’S LAND
by John Burrows.
Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Arms 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 9 June 2015.
Sun-Mon 7.30pm Tue 2pm.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652.
www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk (no booking fee by ’phone or online).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 7 June.
Provides a good time out of bad times, and eventually makes its point.
John Burrows has a splendid title for his new play, and a strong subject too. It’s less clear how they fit together. The point is made that the First World War brought promises to working men which went unfulfilled amid post-war unemployment. Echoes of election pledges and referendum vows are clear enough.
But Burrows’ main subject is the Unknown Warrior, the unidentified corpse taken from somewhere on the wartime battlefields and buried with full honours in London exactly 2 years after the Armistice. It was a practical way of assuaging feelings in bereaved families – whoever it was in that tomb, it might have been a son, brother, husband of theirs. The public response was unpredictable; in the event it resembled reaction to the recent Tower of London poppy field, with viewing extended to accommodate the crowds.
Burrows takes a minimalist approach, with two actors changing sex, rank or nationality in a moment as events develop. Skilfully, script hints and keen-edged characterisation means it’s always clear which role David Brett and, especially, given his multiple roles, Gareth Williams is playing.
Given the angle the play takes – both cast members were in 1980s a cappella group The Flying Pickets, which took its name from political activists in the Miners’ Strike, while Burrows wrote for the company – it’s natural the story it concocts takes a trip through class attitudes in English society.
Though many details about the Warrior are historically accurate, these tend to be recounted or dramatised speedily. Strangely, it takes half the action to come round to the Warrior at all.
Early scenes depict the period’s mental landscape, including the spiritualism which, before the Warriors’ burial in Westminster Abbey was the only means of comfort for many mourners. Yet, having started on this, Burrows seems locked-into details of his characters’ lives.
These are often fascinating, but provide a circuitous course towards the eventual subject, which then charges ahead before seeing-off one of its main characters peremptorily.
Still, it’s quite an achievement to have summoned-up, and summed-up, the complexities, and perplexities, of the period with a surprising comic edge and lightness of touch.
1st Tommy/Percy Cotton/Lady Elizabeth Munroe/Sir Gregory Sleight/Sarah/Boy: David Brett.
2nd Tommy/Nellie Mottram/2nd Lieutenant Clement Munroe/Medical Orderly/Doctor/Sir Arthur Munroe/Carter/2nd Lieutenant Marcus Macalroy/VAD/Lieutenant Colonel Algernon Stanley/David Lloyd George/Nikolay Mikhailevhich Gorokhov/Demobilised Soldier/Reg/Lieutenant: Gareth Williams.
Director: John Burrows.