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A review by Vanessa Bunn for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

Shakespeare’s Globe presents

 

Doctor Scroggy’s War

 

James Garnon as Harold Gillies and Will Featherstone as Jack Twigg in John Dove's 2014 production of Doctor Scroggy's War, a new play by Harold Breton

Photo by Bronwen Sharp

 

by Howard Brenton

Directed by John Dove

Designed by Michael Taylor

Composed by William Lyons

 

Shakespeare’s Globe

 

12 September – 10 October 2014

 

A relatively stark Globe stage presents itself as the marble pillars are coloured black and the embellished backdrop is replaced by austere hangings donning the motto of the British Monarch: “Dieu et Mon Droit”. The musicians in the gallery are in WWI uniform and the stage front is extended right out into the groundling’s space, where much of the key conversation in the play will take place. In a drama which represents part fact, part fiction, Howard Brenton has invented Jack Twigg (Will Featherstone), intelligence officer to Field Marshall Sir John French (Paul Rider) during the Battle of Loos in 1915. We see him promoted the night before being posted to France on the dance floor of the Ritz ballroom. Rider plays John French, the figure historically held responsible for defeat at the battle of Loos, with notable depth and conviction.

Patrick Driver and Katy Stephens put moving in turns as Mr and Mrs Twigg, devoted parents who’ve managed to send their inexperienced, excitable son Jack to Oxford University, only to find him return home to deliver news of conscription for war. Their plight, as injured parents for whom everything is lovely if their son thinks it so, is one of the most fully realised in the play. We see them passed over for a proper goodbye and visit Jack at various stages of his recuperation, invariably with a hostile reception or harrowing discovery waiting.

Mixing fact with fiction allows Brenton’s script to flow along at pace under receptive direction from John Dove. The loss of life at the battle of Loos saw the introduction of steel helmets, this resulted in reduced fatalities and consequentially, far more survivors with facial injuries. This bittersweet advancement saw masses of men injured in the trenches without hope of ever recovering in an environment where surgery was inadequate and facial surgery, non-existent. This is the problem which Harold Gillies (James Garnon), an ear, nose and throat surgeon from New Zealand was determined to tend to. Obsessed with morale in the same way that Twigg is before his injury in battle, Gillies has rather atypical methods of boosting fun-levels in his wards as he develops new methods and builds new hopes around facial reconstruction. The mysterious Doctor Scroggy takes over at night, administering champagne and practical jokes, to the delight of his convalescing patients.

Sing-songs start jolly and descend into the macabre in the same way as the musicians seem, at the slightest turn, to switch from jubilant trumpet and percussion to melancholic cello and piano compositions. Penelope Wedgewood (Catherine Bailey) starts off as the flummoxed floozy of the piece. Beautifully adorned, impossibly well connected and easy on the eye, she is much coveted company at the Ritz and only too happy to offer it. As the war takes its toll on the men who go to fight, the women who go to tend to them and those left behind are not neglected in this telling. Penelope matures throughout the play and her seemingly vacuous nature as first depicted transpires to be anything but as she develops depth of character, eventually becoming a staunch pacifist.

Corporal Fergal O’Hannigan (William Mannering) is the token Irish member of the consort, all singing and swearing; he has the wind knocked out of his sails but not his vocabulary. He also owns perhaps the most affecting line in the play when he poignantly declares that “mutilation is a great leveller”. He proves a firm friend to Jack until the events of Easter in Dublin make him question who he is fighting for.

Howard Brenton writes proficiently for a Globe audience, engaging and entertaining in equal measure; this play proves a winner with an audience who become fascinated with the intertwining developments, Doctor Gillies’ unconventional methods and the progress and regressions of Jack Twigg in war, in romance and in mind. Brenton does not leave his audience with any clear conclusions about war or posit definite motivations of the men who become unbreakably drawn to the front-line for reasons which seem to defy articulation. He does, however, comprehensively explore these issues and the consequences of war and the way in which the smallest of decisions can affect thousands of lives beyond any recognition, for better or for worse.

 

 

Will Featherstone as Jack Twigg in John Dove's 2014 production of Doctor Scroggy's War, a new play by Harold Breton

Photo by Mark Douet

 

 

http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/
Shakespeare’s Globe
21 New Globe Walk
Bankside, London
SE1 9DT
Box Office: 020 7401 9919
Tickets: £5 standing / £15-£42 seats
 
 

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