We ask a lot of the soldiers who serve in H M Forces. They are sent to fight in bloody conflicts in remote corners of the globe, often with the result of being maimed or killed. But their work does not stop there. At times of crisis, they are asked to turn their hands to all manner of tasks including fire fighting, delivering fuel and even providing security for the Olympic games when private contractors fail to meet their obligations.
This play takes place in a bay of 4 beds in the Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital in Woolwich in the Spring of 1984. It is almost 2 years after the start of the Falklands war when British troops were sent thousands of miles away to the South Atlantic to reclaim the islands (that few of us had heard of before) which had been seized by the Argentinian military. At the same time, the IRA were conducting a widespread bombing campaign in which members of the armed services – even those off-duty – were seen as legitimate targets. Though the political background is an essential part of the plot, it is not really the focus of the story.
Six young soldiers find themselves cooped-up in a claustrophobic atmosphere which provides more angst than comfort. The soldiers have not all been wounded in battle, or through terrorist acts. Potential Officer Menzies (Jolyon Coy) is being treated for a pilonidal cyst which has been packed so that he walks rather comically with his backside sticking out. Mick (Matthew Lewis) has been circumcised and, when not using his wheelchair, walks around carefully holding out the front of his shorts. Parry (Arthur Darvill) has had all his toes amputated after he got his feet wet while on an exercise and was refused permission to change his socks resulting in severe frostbite. Joe (Laurence Fox) has had his finger blown off in a terrorist explosion, and Ian (Lewis Reeves) is severely incapacitated, unable to speak coherently. And Keith is suffering from advancing numbness in his leg which is baffling the army doctors.
When POM Menzies arrives in the bay, the other soldiers are immediately suspicious and wary of him. They see him as part of a different class – an officer, or a 'Rupert' as they call him. But he nonetheless joins in the party for Ian's twenty-first birthday (which is actually not due for another three months). When the beer cans from the festivities are discovered, the hospital Colonel conducts an enquiry with the potential for the camaraderie of the ward to be shattered.
Written by Jonathan Lewis from his own experiences as an army scholar, 'Our Boys' is a story of young men living under the strict army regime which they both fight against, yet depend upon. All are equally fearful when the prospect of being kicked-out looms ominously ahead of them. Mr Lewis's script is at times enormously funny and at others equally heartrending – though I did not quite buy the outcome of the Colonel's enquiry, even if it is based on fact. Though the abrupt ending could have been more powerful and poignant, 'Our Boys' still provides a fascinating insight into the motivations of young men who know the many hazards of their occupation and the rules they must endure, but do so because they find little that 'civvy street' can offer in comparison. First performed in 1993 and winner of a Best Fringe Play award, 'Our Boys' is on for a limited season, so you will have to move fast for tickets – but it is certainly worth the effort.
"In David Grindley's strongly cast revival, it strikes me as a decent enough piece, but over-reliant on the conventions of army comedy and lacking in real anger at the way disabled servicemen are often thrown on to the scrapheap."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"Sharp, robustly funny...The production negotiates the sudden switches of mood (from the uproarious to the melancholy) with aplomb; there's sensitivity in the punchy performances; and the play makes its case all the more powerfully for never becoming preachy or programmatic. "
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"The problem is it hasn’t really anywhere to go. Each scene is beautifully crafted, but they don’t quite join to form a narrative arc, and the tragic denouement feels uncomfortably bolted on to a play that is touching and amusing, but oddly lacking in shape. "
Jane Shilling for The Daily Telegraph
"Director David Grindley coaxes a terrific sense of edgy camaraderie and snappy loyalty from the group, who handle with sensitivity the men’s growing awareness that, outside Army life, a highly uncertain future awaits. "
Fiona Mountford for The Evening Standard