Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Mar 10 – 26, 2016
Playwright: Sandi Toksvig
Director: Deborah Mulhall
Cast: Patrick Cullen, Jaymie Knight
Plays about the consequences of war appear frequently, because their message never seems to speak loudly enough to overwhelm what governments are able to have us believe. On any given day, it only takes a two-minute news report on any broadcast media to convince us of sending troops to fight in places we know virtually nothing about, for reasons that are contentious at best. Rich or poor, East or West, cultures everywhere engage in warfare as though a completely natural part of human nature. We send young people away, understanding the risks but convinced that the honour of the exercise makes it all worthwhile.
Sandi Toksvig’s Bully Boy reveals the damage inflicted on our soldiers, as well as the camaraderie built under circumstances of trauma and suffering. Its context might not be original, but this is a piece of writing that provides access to a deeper psychological understanding of the destruction being continuously dispensed. Toksvig’s characters are British, but they represent the humanity of military personnel everywhere, beyond exteriors of stoic infallibility.
Barely an adult, Private Eddie Clark is already surrounded by death. Played by Patrick Cullen, the character is authentic, complex and moving. Cullen’s powerful performance provides heart and soul to a production that relies on little more than its two actors to tell its story. Jaymie Knight looks to be half the age of his role, and takes time to make Major Oscar Hadley a convincing presence. The actor is stronger in scenes of intense emotion, but the challenge of truthfully depicting someone under decades of anguish is evident. Nevertheless, the couple is energetic and compelling, with director Deborah Mulhall keeping things lively and pacey. Mulhall’s clever use of space liberates the simple two-hander format, but emotions can be portrayed with greater specificity, and scene transitions could be managed with better flair for stronger plot and narrative effectiveness.
It is hard to imagine a world where we no longer deliver our young to the battlefield. Horrors are a fact of life, and we learn to co-exist, but one of the things that art can do, is to wake the sleeping dogs. Art prevents us from indulging in delusions and convenient misbeliefs, while others lay victimised by our ignorance. Bully Boy and other tales of tragedy may not be able to bring us world peace, but they are sometimes the only thing we can count on to remind us of truths that many want to keep buried.