Jonathan Lewis’ Our Boys is a highly energetic and poignant play about a group of British and Irish military servicemen recovering in an army hospital following injuries in various theaters. It features Cian Berry, Jolyon Coy, Arthur Darvill, Laurence Fox, Matthew Lewis (who played Neville in Harry Potter), and Lewis Reeves under the direction of David Grindley at the Duchess Theatre in London. It was produced by James Seabright, Jenny Topper, Sue Scott Davidson, and Lee Menzies.
The first thing that I was presented with at this production of Our Boys was energy. This, along with an undying sense of comedy in all things and a realistic 1980’s hospital set create the tone of the show: sharply funny, but also poignant and emotional. A far cry from the cramped venue of the Chickenshed Theatre’s The Rain That Washes, the Duchess Theatre is a spacious classical theatre with an overhanging gallery and a room large enough to allow laughs to reverberate but small enough to create a “splash zone” at the front of the theater where audience members run the risk of being sprayed with beer. This is during a particularly entertaining drinking game that brings out the characters’ penchant for a good laugh but also the trauma they experienced as soldiers as they play a sort of Russian Roulette while one man assumes the role of a vicious interrogator.
Another scene features the men poking fun at an ascending officer who eventually snaps and demands to be called “Sir.” It is patterns like these that make up the show- ebullient humor used to build up the audience who is then struck down with a reality of military life such as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder or an inability to function without a chain of command.
I believe that the play effectively draws attention to many and varied difficulties that can arise in the life of a soldier including physical and mental trauma, disfigurement, and social difficulties adjusting to civilian life. It does so by creating very likable and realistic characters who make a strong attempt to appear strong and “normal” but eventually snap and reveal damage of one kind or another. The play offers an intimate look into the lives of returning soldiers troubled by their physical injuries and shaken by what they have experienced in the uniquely intermediary setting of a hospital.
According to Michael Billington of The Guardian, “…the play captures with vivid accuracy the instinctive distrust of the squaddies for the outsider, their contempt for high military ideals (‘You don’t do it for Queen and Country,’ someone protests, ‘you do it for your mates’), and their need to invent ways of alleviating the deadly boredom.” This speaks for the extreme attention to accuracy and sincerity of the production. Paul Taylor of The Independent states that “The production negotiates the sudden switches of mood (from the uproarious to the melancholy) with aplomb; there’s sensitivity in the punchy performances” and highlights the finesse in the actors’ performances and the plot of the show.
Overall I think that Our Boys has been very successful in drawing attention to a number of issues that affect returning soldiers in its writing, acting, and reception and it reflects the energy and music of London very well.