Review by Prue Heathcote of
My Boy Jack at Warkworth Memorial Hall, commemorating the centenary of the end of the First World War.
Warkworth Drama Group has never been afraid of tackling ambitious drama.
But in performing David Haig’s powerfully moving play My Boy Jack, it surely faced its biggest challenge yet – not least being how to transform a small village hall stage into a convincing portrayal of a First World War trench.
Staged at the village’s Memorial Hall last week to packed audiences, the play was timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the end of the conflict that claimed millions of lives.
It focuses on just one of those lives lost, the teenage son of celebrated author Rudyard Kipling, and the impact of that death on his family.
Director Ralph Firth assembled a strong cast; Mike Dixon’s Kipling captured superbly the man’s self-important jingoism, particularly in the rousing ‘call to arms’ speech, his overbearing determination to get his own way, and a sadly blind ignorance of the reality of war.
He tells his son as he leaves for the Front: ‘I wish I could share with you that clean honourable task which is ahead of you’.
Playing Kipling’s long-suffering wife Carrie, Meg Dixon gave a heart-rending performance as the bereaved mother, and Milly Davies was quietly dignified as Jack’s beloved sister Elsie.
Seventeen-year-old Will Jones was a thoroughly believable teenage boy – irritated by his father but desperate for his approval and even more desperate to escape from home and prove himself a man.
Will brought out Jack’s vulnerability, most poignantly in the medical inspection scene, where, humiliatingly stripped to his underwear, his father and the two Army medics (Richard Brearley and Colin Heathcote) ignore him to discuss motor cars and listen to a recording on the new-fangled phonograph.
In the final scene of Act 1, we were suddenly transported into the noise, mud and horror of the trenches, and here the play really burst into vivid life thanks to stunning performances by Adam Aitman, Ian Hughes and Andrew Wharton as the three cold, wet and panic stricken Irish guardsmen under Jack Kipling’s command.
It was a heart-stopping moment as we watched them and Jack go over the top, freezing in mid-action as deafening shells exploded all around.
The second act dealt movingly with the aftermath, as the Kiplings cling on to hope that Jack, missing in action, has survived.
As hope fades, they are visited by Guardsman Bowe, who finally tells them the terrible truth.
You could have heard a pin drop as Andrew Wharton delivered an unforgettable performance as the shell-shocked Bowe – a scene that will surely stay in the memory for a long time.
Perhaps most moving of all were the final scenes, with recriminations from Elsie and Carrie, blaming her ‘cold fish’ husband for Jack’s fate and challenging his view that there was any glory in that death.
Mike Dixon showed us there was another side to Kipling, as he finally acknowledged his guilt and wept for his son.
The play ended with a tender scene of reconciliation between the ageing couple as Kipling recites the poem ‘My Boy Jack’.
Amazing lighting and sound effects, a great set and careful attention to the accuracy of the army uniforms, weapons and props all combined to make a truly memorable production and an entirely fitting way to mark this important centenary.
Warkworth Drama Group will be staging Cinderella as their pantomime on December 13, 14 and 15.