Review of My Boy Jack by Am Dram Man

The following review by Am Dram Man Lance Bassett for Oxford Mail.

My Boy Jack by David Haig – Banbury Cross Players The Mill, Banbury 7th -10th February 2018

Am Dram Man

Having seen David Haig’s My Boy Jack on television a couple of weeks ago, I was intrigued how BCP would present this poignant epic within the constraints of the Mill stage.

I needn’t have worried. A combination of directorial talent from Helen Watson and Kerrie McCormick along with what can only be described as inspired set design, delivered a memorable evening.

Many people will know the story of Rudyard Kipling‘s staunch support for Britain in the Great War and how anxious he was that his son should take up arms to fight the cause, despite him being so young.

John ‘Jack’ his son has chronic myopia and without his spectacles can hardly see a thing. Through lobbying and influence Kipling manages to acquire a commission in the Irish Guards for his son with tragic consequences.

Philip Fine played Rudyard Kipling with panache. He took this huge challenging role, dissected the whole thing and reassembled it as his own. From the very start when he bursts forth into song, with a slight nod to Bruce Forsythe I thought, he went from strength to strength. An excellent performance, especially when a pair of John’s spectacles was lost under a chair in the front row of the audience. Couple of ad-libs and back to the plot, don’t you just love am dram?

Kipling’s wife Carrie (Deborah Watson) had our eternal sympathy as the mother of the doomed Jack, unforgiving of her husband for forcing his son to go to war.

Joe Deakin played John Kipling. A remarkable accomplishment by this young man with such a large part to deliver, well done sir.

The play is set mainly in ‘Batemans‘ the Kipling’s family home in East Sussex. The set was stylish with just the right hint of affluence, but how was this going to metamorphosis into a battlefield?

From family sitting room to the Western Front

Hey Presto, within a minute, the genius of set designer Chris Garrett took us from a sitting room in East Sussex to dodging bullets and whiz bangs on the Western Front. Stunning, and probably the slickest major scene change I’ve witnessed outside the West End.

With accompanying sounds and lighting, the trench scenes were also executed brilliantly. The creative juices of BCP must have been flowing with force of a Tsunami. From the slides announcing the scenes in the form of period postcards to the projected war scenes and rainfall, the ambience was electric.

The sound crew too must have been on overtime as they worked above the call of duty filling the hall with atmospheric background noises from the constant ticking of the unseen clock at Batemans to the incessant artillery fire in the trenches.

The dug out scene, except for some dodgy Irish accents, was touching as the troops, including our Jack prepared to go over the top. Understandably they weren’t too pleased, but I thought the language was a little ‘over the top’ too. Perhaps it’s a generation thing.

Back at Batemans Jack has been reported missing, and for two years the Kiplings have been interviewing whoever might have news of their son. Enter Guardsman Bowe, he had witnessed the demise of poor Jack and told his tale through his tortured mind with great fervour. At least his story brought closure to the family.

Half crazy soldier on sick leave

John McCormick as Bowe played the part of his career. I have seen John in many a role but never as convincing as with such passion as he played Bowe, the half crazy soldier on sick leave and terrified he will have to return to the Front. If Banbury had a Walk of Fame I would vote for John’s star to be laid on it immediately. A master class in acting as far as I was concerned.

The play continued for two more scenes but the fire had gone out. The wedding of Elsie, Jack’s sister seemed strangely unnecessary but the ending piece was important, set in 1933 with the BBC announcing Hitler’s rise to be Chancellor of Germany and Rudyard at last realising what a waste his son’s death was as war looms again.

Tonight was the first night of the run and unfortunately the hall was only about half full. Shame, the good people of Banbury didn’t know what they were missing.

My Boy Jack is a milestone in the history of BCP, and shows what am dram can produce. Catch it if you can.