Our Boys - review

Posted on: 18 October 2012 by Gareth Hargreaves

Laurence Green sees Jonathan Lewis's tale of camaraderie, black humour and betrayal set in a military hospital.

Our BoysAnger at the neglect of our wounded heroes prompted playwright Jonathan Lewis to pen his 1993 work Our Boys, which is revived in a new production, directed by David Grindley, at the Duchess Theatre, and proves just as relevant today as it was then.

Based on the author’s own experiences, the play is set in a military hospital in Woolwich in 1984 and centres on five young soldiers who are killing nothing but time as they recover from injuries incurred in the line of duty. An edgy camaraderie and snappy loyalty has developed among the patients on Ward 9, who include Joe a soldier from the Blues and Royals, injured in 1982 by the IRA Hyde Park bombing, Keith, a Northern Ireland private with a possibly psychosomatic leg injury, Ian, who is recovering from being shot in the head on patrol in Belfast and a few slightly less heroic injuries. Parry, who has just lost some toes, and Mick, who has been circumcised and is suffering from post operative pain.

Suddenly their daily routine of TV, lonely hearts and razor sharp banter us shattered by the arrival of a young officer. The camaraderie of this unlikely band of brothers is soon jeopardised by a dangerous incident and an act of betrayal. With charges of misconduct looming, accusations fly and the fighting really starts.

The main fault with this play is that there is a lack of a sufficient storyline to sustain the drama, the wheels of which are not set in motion until rather late in the day. Admittedly in the first part Lewis is at pains to show the role comedy plays in displacing fears and anxieties. But was there a need for the humour to be quite so crude? After the interval the play really takes off as Lewis addresses issues such as the dismal failure of the authorities to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and the feeling among the soldiers that they had served their purpose and then been thrown on the scrapheap.

Jonathan Fensom’s recreation of the ward in the Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital in Woolwich is vivid and gives the play a strong sense of realism. 

The cast tread the line between good humoured teasing and menace with conviction and there are commendable performances from Laurence Fox as Joe, Cian Barry as Keith, Arthur Darvill as Parry, Matthew Lewis as Mick, Jolyon Coy as the young officer, Menzies, and especially Lewis Reeves as Ian, the horribly crippled squaddie, struggling to learn to speak again.

Our Boys

Duchess Theatre, London
Box Office: 0844 412 4659 

Runs until December 15

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