As we approach the centurion anniversary of the First World War, the increase in war themed productions is startling. The renaissance can perhaps be cited as starting with Speilberg’s popularization of ‘Warhorse,’ and ‘My Boy Jack’ was a welcome addition to the wartime productions.
It revolves around the story of Rudyard Kippling, wartime polemist and author of classics such as the Jungle Book, and his family’s very personal involvement in the First World War and the aftermath of their life following the death of their son in the war.
From the offset Rudyard was presented as the archetype British male and a proud member of the greatest empire that the world has ever seen. His character, brilliantly portrayed by Matt Holt, constantly kept the audience amused, shocked and at time bewildered by his apparent ignorance and his seeming desperation for his son to fight.
Despite describing his son’s death as the proudest moment of the young man’s life, we learn that his pride and faith in the unity of war is perhaps fleeting, and instead of whole heartedly believing the words that he pens to send more young men to death, he simply uses them as a coping method.
The character of Jack himself was a clear crowd pleaser and perfectly cast in the person of Joseph Aldous. The character is suffocated under the pressure of his over zealous father.
He tells his sister that he is joining the army as an escapism, despite his severe short sightedness and the timid nature associated with his youth, a mere 16 years, he cannot bear to live in this home.
The presentation of Jack’s final moments shows the stark reality of war. The chaotic sound of shells, whistles and machine guns that gets loud to the point that you can no longer hear the actors frantic shouts, comes to a devastating silence.
The silence, broken only by the Jack’s shrill whistle of attack, is a time for the characters to contemplate what for most was their last moment. The silence is a broken banana only by the whimpering of Jack’s brigade, before a short monologue by Jack, which he finally concedes despite all his bravery, ‘I’m scared.’ The soldiers go over the top, and the first act draws to an end.
The second act revolves around discovering Jack’s fate. At the beginning of the scene we discover that Jack is missing presumed wounded, yet a painstaking effort, we hear that Rudyard interviewed over 340 members of the Irish guard, who were Jack’s battalion on the off chance that he might be able to find someone who knew Jack or saw what happened to him.
The climax of the play sees the introduction of one of the men Jack led over the top, Guardsman Bowe, played by Joe Bradley. He survived the attack, yet is incredibly badly affected by shellshock. He movingly recants the attack to the audience, revealing Jack’s gruesome fate, and apologizes for not helping Jack more than he should have.
The confession acts as some form of closure for the family, and the final scene shows his daughters wedding. After her marriage, she is moving to France in order to start a new family. This time, however, Kippling appears to be far more reluctant to allow another one of his children to travel to France.
Four stars out of five
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