THE CONQUERING HERO
by Allan Monkhouse
Orange Tree Theatre 1 Clarence Street TW9 2SA To 9 June 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 3pm & 26 April, 3, 8, 15, 22, 29 May 2.30pm (+ post-show discussion).
Audio-described 5 May 3pm, 8 May.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 8940 3633.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 37 April.
Manchester man’s war-play eventually comes into its own.
Gloom surrounds Allan Monkhouse’s 1923 play, which starts on the evening the lamps went out all over Europe – the start of World War I. Yet, if the Rokebys don’t light their lamps, it’s not for sadness. Mostly they think war a glorious event.
But two of the family’s young men hate the prospect, on principle. Curate Stephen is hounded from his pulpit, and becomes a Red Cross worker (Monkhouse loses interest in medical histories – Stephen disappears from the action, while his brother Christopher’s fiancée Helen is never shown becoming a nurse, with the impact shown in, for example, Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth).
Christopher, a writer, becomes the focus. His objections alienate his lover and many of his family – only his Colonel father mixes tolerance with disappointment. Some verbal blows land squarely: while others fight Chris’s sort just make superior remarks. And, whether it’s Monkhouse’s intention or the playing in Auriol Smith’s production, he does seem self-obsessed.
And objectionable when he uses his social status to force reluctant young servant Dakin to fight him. It’s part of Christopher’s self-examination, leading him to follow Dakin in enlisting, refusing an officer’s commission.
This conflict of master and man is the most lively part of a discussion which nowadays seems familiar, and which Monkhouse, the two men’s fight apart, takes no further than being discussion in his first half.
If the play starts in the half-light, Smith plays the first post-interval scene in near black. Fittingly; it’s what those back home never see, but it accounts for the difference when he comes home, apparently unwounded but subdued with shell-shock or post-traumatic stress.
At war, Christopher faces death and finds his mettle, personal standards of honour rather than ones imposed externally. And it’s in the later scenes Simon Harrison’s performance is most defined in a production that gives each character individuality, notably Paul Shelley as the soldier father who’s never seen combat, Claudia Elmhirst as Chris’s sister, Jack Sandle, both as tactful British soldier and Prussian Officer, and Christopher Heyward, flickering between politeness and contempt as the servant challenged by one of his employers.
Colonel Rokeby: Paul Shelley.
Margaret: Claudia Elmhirst.
Christopher Rokeby: Simon Harrison.
Stephen Rokeby/German Soldier: Jonathan Christie.
Helen Thorburn: Miranda Keeling.
Captain Francis Iredale/Prussian Officer: Jack Sandle.
Sir John Romer/German Soldier: Julian Forsyth.
Lady Romer: Joan Moon.
Dakin/Megson: Christopher Heyward.
Perkins: Davis Gooderson.
Director: Auriol Smith.
Designer: Sam Dowson.
Lighting: John Harris.
Costume: Jude Stedham.
Fight director: Philip d’Orleans.