Bully Boy - review

Posted by Gareth Hargreaves

Sandi Toksvig's Bully Boy at St James Theatre is beautifully realised and filled with impressive performances, writes Laurence Green.

Bully BoyThe difficult contemporary problem of postwar trauma is a subject which has been neglected by most modern playwrights so praise should be given to broadcaster Sandi Toksvig for tackling this theme in Bully Boy, which is a brave choice to open the new St James's Theatre, Palace Street, Westminster, London SW1.

Falklands war veteran Major Oscar Hadley is sent to a combat zone to probe allegations of severe misconduct by Eddie Clark, a young squaddie from Burnley and part of a self-styled ‘Bully Boy’ unit of the British army. Eddie left school without a single GCSE and is given to bouts of casual racism, it is claimed he threw an eight-year-old boy down a well, while being involved in a fire fight in a country that appears to be Afghanistan. The interrogation, however, gradually takes in a different hue, as the horrors both men have lived through at war begin to form a bond between them. Both men have been scarred by war and both have guilty secrets. But it seems the gulf between them is not as wide as it initially appears.

Toksvig is a pacifist and obviously is passionate about her subject matter, but the play, which is driven by anger, lacks a sharp focus, although this does not prevent it from being genuinely affecting. Despite the serious nature of the theme, there are bright moments of comedy. But as Eddie’s trauma takes centre stage the investigation recedes and we lose sight of the fate of the hapless child, who provides the core of the drama.

Nevertheless Patrick Sandford’s realistic production still manages to keep the issues it addresses feeling resonant.

Furthermore Sandford manages to extract impressive performances from Anthony Andrews as the assured, naughty and raw Hadley, who is confined to a wheelchair, and Joshua Miles as the more emotional, somewhat fidgety Clark. Both actors succeed in fleshing out their rather thinly drawn characters and manage to give them a strong degree of credibility.

Bully Boy

Palace Street, Westminster, London

Runs until October 27

Box office: 0844 264 2140

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