Thursday, 9 October 2014

Theatre 2014: Review Thirty-Four

Doctor Scroggy's War, Shakespeares' Globe, London. October 2014.

After meeting Rebecca, having a cup of tea, saying goodbye to companion number one and locating our hotel we returned to the Globe for the evening.

We started in the lecture theatre below the theatre for a "Perspectives" talk. This involved Howard Brenton (author of the play) talking about the play and then taking questions from the audience.  The talk tried very hard not to spoil any surprises in the play for those of us who hadn't yet seen it but at the same time gave us a good idea on how it came to be written and some of the research undertaken to formulate it.

I was most interested in the areas of the talk, and questions, that talked about how Brenton wrote the play for the space and the uniqueness of the Globe, and how the audience interaction can both be a help and a hindrance to the playwright and actor.  I was also really pleased to hear Brenton talk about how WW1 wasn't the first mechanised/trench war - he acknowledged the American Civil War! This is a pet peeve of mine - can you tell!

After the talk we had very high hopes for the play and were in our seats well before the start.

The plot follows three people Jack Twigg - a temporary gentleman with a commission in the London Irish Regiment, Penelope Wedgewood - a leading socialite, and Dr Harold Gillies - a pioneering plastic surgeon with a progressive and unorthodox take on medicine and the importance of morale on healing. There are many other incidental characters helping to drive the plot and in historical terms the play focuses on the Battle of Loos in 1915 and the incredible mistake made by high command.

The play purports to be, and the pre show talk lead me to believe, that the focus would be on the dramatisation of the real life Gillies and his unorthodox but effective treatment of soldiers who suffered facial injuries - he was in fact mentioned recently in the moving ITV series The People's War - however for me this didn't turn out to be the case.

For me the play felt like it was put on stage too early - I think that there are three excellent stories to be told, but that to develop them better each needs more space, or a play of their own.  Jack's story is fascinating and I wanted to know more of him in all ways, without spoilers it is also still very pertinent in asking what does being British actually mean.

Penelope undergoes the most radical of changes and has a fascinating arc to explore, especially in the light of last year's Bluestockings and as for poor Gillies...he was played by the ever wonderful James Garnon but was woefully under used and I felt that there was a lot more mileage in his character. It almost feel disrespectful to use a real person in such a desultory way.

My final grievance with the play was the jig at the end, I can't explain why but for me to see people dancing to Goodbye Dolly Gray and Tipperary seemed wrong.

On the plus side the play held my attention throughout the (scant) two hours, I laughed lots and learned lots of new things about a subject I do know well. It was acted brilliantly and the use of sound was incredible.  I hope that perhaps some more work is done on this play and that it does come back again as it is an interesting story, I'm just not 100% sure that at present the play tells it.

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