An American reporter, Kirkpatrick (Paul Venables)arrives with a Belgian prostitute (Johanna Lonsky), a last bit of pleasure for the boys. He wants to find out the real story of these men behind the lines but as would be expected the questioning is met with initial hostility and wariness. The reporters naivety about the true situation and what these men must go through is very apparent.
The play showed how a mismatch of people were thrown together and out of that they had to form a fighting team the east end chauffeur, Ain (Ray Winstone), the scottish school teacher turned reluctant commander Child(Dougray Scott), the antagonistic Venus (Finbar Lynch), the well educated upper class Mo (Hugh Dancy), the enthusiastic but slightly bewildered Duff (Danny Babington), the down to earth northern Cossum (Adrian Scarborough’s), the spiritual Lion ( Nitin Canatra) and the unlikely poet, Dice (Danny Sapini) this fighting unit was created.
Scenes which stood out for me were:
The breaking point of Child: Kirkpatrick digs too far for information and when Child threatens to use his razor against him neither truly knows whether he would eventually carry out his threat.. This loss of control worries the crew as Child shows his struggle to cope with the situation;
Dicing with death: the crew throw a dice to decide for them whether they should go forward or say their tank is broken down but as Venus is about to make his throw the distant song of a fellow tank crew getting ready for battle decides for them;
The tank rehearsal in readiness for the following day: the reconnaissance officer silently appears with the instructions, which in the space of a few minutes have been noted, and he disappears into the darkness. The crew then take their positions in the tank mocked up with boxes knowing that this rehearsal is a pre cursor to the real thing and any mistake could be fatal.
Reality hits: As the men are all ready to leave, Mo, from whom the crew members had kept the true reality of their situation from until a few hours before, breaks down as he sees his death before him knowing that today is the end and his aspirations will never be realised. His fellow tanks members wait patiently and Ain reassures him that ‘it’s alright we’re here’ and as another starts to say ‘we’re late’ he calmly just says ‘I know’. As Child writes in a letter, he knows Kirkpatrick will read, we are eight parts of one knight and are one unit which will support each other and go forward as one.
The end: After all have left the wood, the crew for the assault and the reporter / prostitute from whence they came, and as the dawn light comes through the trees you know that the end for this crew has come.
This is a poignant play played by an excellent cast and was an excellent production. The direction and language of the piece made it very realistic and I felt it captured the atmosphere and emotion of that final night very well.
The Donmar’s stage is set with trees and gives the effect of the wooded glade as we observe from the darkness. Never have I known a pre start audience so quiet. The actors were on stage as the audience came in going through their own tasks and thoughts and you felt as though you shouldn’t make any noise which would disturb them. The silence was altogether eerie.
The feelings I took away from this play was the astonishing courage of these men who accepted their fate as dictated by their country. Where many would ,and I’m sure did, run away, many would have been like these men and prepared mentally for their own death. Knowing that this wasn’t the end and that 20 years in the future we would again be at a war the loss of these men’s lives seems such a waste. Today we have no concept of the situation these men were in, the conditions or how we would react, but by seeing this play I feel as though I now understand more than I did before.
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