Seven days, nine shows, but Monday’s option not decided. “A play about soldiers!” my gay friend proposes. “A play about soldiers,” I sigh. His obsession with the armed forces is in complete opposition to my tastes, but he’s a guest, my other (gentlemen theater fanatic) friends have praised the show, and he’s promised to go for day seats. Even though they were a bit rich at £20, I thought it would have been churlish to say no.
Who would have expected it, but this low-key drama turned out to be a highlight of a dense theatrical week. It was neither maudlin nor patriotic, but level-headed, genuinely funny, and engaging. Given it was set in a hospital and had characters that included some severely wounded men, you would have expected it to either go for obvious tragedy or nauseating hero-worship; but instead, it focused on character and leavened the story it slowly built with comedy appropriate for young men working in a very male environment (dating and cock jokes galore). The emphasis, to me, was about the work that is army life; a way out of a dead end world in which those who aren’t born with the silver spoon don’t have many options. And it looks at what it means to be in that world and have the advantages, and how even the army doesn’t level them out; and how any job, even a crappy one, may really be one worth fighting for.
To my pleasure, the 1980s setting meant lots of music that I enjoyed (as well as providing a very specific historical context), but I feel the story, as it ran, mostly transcended its era. In retrospect, I can’t help but compare it with the far less funny and genuinely offensive Privates on Parade, which sacrificed story for stereotype and naked bodies for naked souls. You’ve got one week left to catch the good play about soldiers currently on in the West End: and, for what it’s worth, it’s the Duchess you ought to be heading to, for a night of genuinely enjoyable theater.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, December 3rd, 2012. It ends soon.)