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For King and Country and Southwark Playhouse | Review

(c) Alex Brenner - Dilated Theatre - For King and Country - Southwark Playhouse
(c) Alex Brenner – Dilated Theatre – For King and Country – Southwark Playhouse

At a time when stress in the workplace and mental illness is being increasingly recognised and taken seriously – there’s now a freephone Theatre Helpline for people in the industry to contact if they would like support – a play like this is very apt. In For King and Country, written in 1964 and set in 1918, much rests on how much the British Army cares about Private Arthur Hamp (Adam Lawrence).

In different ways, both he and Medical Officer O’Sullivan (Andrew Cullum) agree that this court martial, chaired by the unimaginatively titled President of the Court (Peter Ellis), is time and effort better spent finishing the job of winning the Great War.

It is one thing to stage a courtroom drama in a civilian setting, but it is quite another to set one in a military setting, within the theatre (so to speak) of operations. I’m not sure what to make of the shouting and gunfire that kept happening during scene changes – I think the point about the setting is sufficiently made after the first couple of scenes, and if any reminders were really needed about where proceedings were taking place, well, that was in the script. A moment of amusement amongst members of the audience, sat in the Southwark Playhouse during a heatwave, came in the form of the President suddenly declaring that it was “hot in here”, followed by a very British discussion about the weather. All from the original script, of course, but it happened to be topical.

The production made an impact on the press night audience, with audible gasps as Private Hamp struggles to get the right words out in the process of giving evidence. There was also audible weeping going on in the final moments of the show, though I fear it would be too much of a spoiler to state precisely why. Lieutenant Hargreaves (Lloyd Everitt), who agrees to defend Private Hamp against the charges against him, puts forward forceful arguments but gets too emotionally involved – or does he?

The Church fares reasonably well in the form of The Padre (Eugene Simon), who has committed to memory far more church liturgy than most parish priests in this day and age (then again, that’s good acting for you), and showing a credible amount of compassion. As for the show overall, it drags somewhat to begin with, and becomes increasingly riveting as it goes on – the audience’s patience is rewarded. Everyone has a reason to believe that what they are doing is the right course of action, even if they are at odds. But the tools with which they must work are inadequate, and in most cases, they know it.

It is not an easy show to watch, and it shouldn’t be. But there’s much food for thought in a plotline where life and death is in the balance, regardless of direct engagement with opposing troops. An intriguing and deeply moving production with a strong cast.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

1918. The Western Front.
Private Hamp, a young working-class soldier from the North of England, has been in the frontline of a bloody battlefield for four years. One day he decides to walk away…

This tense court-room drama, set during the final months of the Great War, follows the young shell-shocked Hamp’s trial for desertion and his fight for his right to live. His defending officer, lawyer, Lieutenant Hargreaves, must face a seemingly insurmountable challenge – to save a young soldier from the firing squad.

Will Private Arthur Hamp be found innocent and released with his life or will he become yet another casualty of the unforgiving and relentless war machine?

This forgotten classic by John Wilson has been powerfully re-imagined for the stage by director Paul Tomlinson (Force and Hypocrisy, Raising Hell, The Young Vic; Tommy, Downright Hooligan, West End; Orphans, Southwark Playhouse) and designer Jacqueline Gunn (The Dillen, RSC; The Pocket Dream, Nottingham Playhouse and West End).

This production proudly commemorates 1918 in support of the Royal British Legion and as a member of the IWM First World War Centenary Partnership.

John Wilson’s brilliant script was first performed in 1964 starring Richard Briers, Leonard Rossiter and John Hurt and was later adapted into the BAFTA nominated film King and Country with Tom Courtney, Dirk Bogarde and Leo McKern.

Creative Team:
Director – Paul Tomlinson
Designer – Jacqueline Gunn
Lighting Designer – Robbie Butler
Sound Designer – Philip Matejtshuk
Assistant Producer – Clare Langford
Producer – Alexander Neal

Cast: Fergal Coghlan, Andrew Cullum, Peter Ellis, Lloyd Everitt, Adam Lawrence, Henry Proffit, Cameron Robertson, Nik Salmon, Eugene Simon and Thomas Weir.

Dilated Theatre presents
For King and Country
by John Wilson
28 JUN – 21 JUL 2018
https://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/

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