THE PLAY THAT KILLED ME: Justin MacGregor
Old Joint Stock, Birmingham, to 23 July
Tkts: 0121 200 0946; www.oldjointstocktheatre.co.uk
Runs: 75 mins, no interval
Review: Rod Dungate 22 07 11
A genuinely moving edge
THE PLAY THAT KILLED ME is an intriguing, biographical story of the writer’s grandfather’s experiences as an actor and director during WW II; that we know much of the play to be true gives it an edge, too. At times it’s greatly moving.
Writer and director, Justin MacGregor’s grandfather, Hector, was an actor and director. He joined the army during WW II and, of his own choice, worked presenting plays in Egypt. Encouraged by an actor friend from before the war, he went on to direct a production of the WW I based JOURNEY’S END for troops on the front line. But is wasn’t bullets that got him in the end . . .
The play focuses on the human beings, on Hector, centrally, but also on his relationships with friends and family. Hector guides us through his own story, introducing performed sections along the way.
It’s a good company, with Gerry McLaughlin (Hector) particularly strong in a warm performance that draws us with ease into his story. He has a genuine manner in his all-important direct address; but could still benefit from sitting back on it a bit more. Peter Hunt brings some gentle, welcome, humour into the proceedings, as the sergeant, constantly promoted and demoted to appease the locals.
There are a handful of anachronisms that are irritating, but what I specially like is the play’s ability, sometimes, to encapsulate important ideas. The wartime production of JOURNEY’S END was surprisingly successful, and MacGregor attempts to sum up the play’s enduring appeal – ‘honouring the living and the dead for their sacrifices’. For the WW II soldiers on the front it was performed to, it reminds them ‘they won’t be forgotten.’ Powerful stuff.
Hector: Gerry MacLaughlin
Charles: Matthew Ganley
Peg: Jane Purcell
Elizabeth, Nurse: Scarlett Mack
Lewis, The Rowing Club President: Peter Hunt
Ken, R C Sherriff: David Crowley
Edward: Gary Damer
Writer and Director: Justin MacGregor
Lighting Design: Cara Hayes
Sound Design: Simon Cookson
Hair, Make-up, Costumes: Victoria Newton