The Theatreguide.London Review
Duchess Theatre Autumn 2012
In the tradition of such plays as The Hasty Heart and Private Wars, and with a significant nod to Stalag 17, Jonathan Lewis's 1993 drama shows us a half-dozen British soldiers recuperating from various wounds in a military hospital.
The fact that it is derivative and formulaic actually works to the play's favour, because its strengths, both dramatic and comic, are those inherent in the genre.
Despite the fact (explained in the programme) that the play is based on Lewis's own experience in such a hospital, and several of the characters are based on actual people, both the characters and situations fall into familiar stereotypes. But they're strong stereotypes that audiences know how to respond to.
There is an inherent attractiveness to coarse military humour, and the good-natured teasing, mickey-taking and jokes practical, sexual and scatological among the men all ring true and generate infectious fun.
We also recognise the reality that strong men are capable of gentleness and sensitivity, and the several times in the play that one soldier's physical or mental distress generates instinctive sympathy and protectiveness in another can't help but move us.
The more the men are individualised – even if they are individualised into recognisable types – the more we can respond to the soldier scared to death of a medical discharge because he can't imagine life outside the army, or the one first beginning to question the commitment he made as a teenager.
What passes for a plot – other than the passage of time – involves the initial coolness and gradual warming toward the new guy in the ward, who happens to be an officer candidate and therefore doubly suspect, and the discovery that one among them has tattled to the authorities about a minor indiscretion that could get them in trouble.
But the real forward movement in the play comes from what's quietly going on behind these events - the almost miraculous recovery over time of the most seriously wounded man and the slow decline of another, both of them certain to be touching..
In a cast that includes familiar faces from television (Arthur Darvill of Doctor Who, Laurence Fox of Lewis) and film (Matthew Lewis of Harry Potter), it is Fox as the cynic whose hard shell will inevitably crack, Jolyon Coy as the outsider based on the playwright himself, and Lewis Reeves as the damaged man who fights his way to recovery who stand out.
Our Boys will offer no surprises to anyone who has ever seen a war or hospital drama, but it delivers honest sentiment and honest humour.
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