Dr Scroggy's War

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Thursday, 18 September, 2014
Review by: 
Mark Shenton

Shakespeare's Globe is, of course, made for Shakespeare, in every sense. It's in a space very similar to this that many of his plays were first premiered, and where they now acquire a very special power born of the direct communication that occurs between stage and audience.

New plays here are a different, sometimes more wary, proposition. But given how many of his history plays revolve around battle, there's a direct connection to the world that Howard Brenton portrays, with both punch and poignancy, in Dr Scroggy's War, theatreland's latest contribution to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War.

You can feel the ghosts of Shakespeare's warriors, horribly killed and injured in bloody battles, speaking to these figures from 100 years ago, and those being killed today. But Brenton doesn't draw any direct parallels: rather, he lets his characters speak for themselves.

So we are drawn in once again and made to think again about the human consequences of the decisions to settle our differences in warfare. The first act, it has to be admitted, is a little slow going and formless, as Brenton sets the scene and introduces us to the back story of Jack Twigg - who, instead of taking up a place at Oxford, signs up for the army, and the night of passion he shares with the Hon Penelope Wedgewood before he leaves for the Western Front.

But after the battle at the end of the first act, we return for the second to the military hospital where he is now being treated for his dreadful facial injuries and the play takes more form and shape.

Oh, What a Lovely War! was the ironic title that Joan Littlewood gave to her documentary theatre account of the war; Oh, what an unlovely war was the truth. This play reveals the harsh reality, but also the remarkable resilience of the young men directly affected.

Though there are times when it is sentimental, the play resonates with feeling and is powerfully played by a cast led by Will Featherstone as Jack and James Garnon as the plastic surgeon who treats him.


"To stay, or not to stay - that is the question our dutiful hero asks as he emerges from months of reconstructive surgery in this big, warm, perceptive play, one which proves that the last post for invigorating drama about the Great War has not yet been sounded."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph

"John Dove’s beautifully brisk production exploits Brenton’s talent for swift transitions and verbal riffs...I would have liked to have learned more of Gillies’s inner life, but James Garnon does a first-rate job of showing how he adopted a facade of sporty heartiness to deal with the surrounding suffering."
Michael Billington for The Guardian

External links to full reviews from popular press
Telegraph - Guardian

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