My Boy Jack
CP Theatre Productions
Baron's Court Theatre
As director Simon Nader observes in his programme notes, Britain is currently used to reading about and seeing footage of a contraversial war that is taking the lives of many young men. Knowing that this production also falls during the Iraq enquiry gives the writing even more poignancy.
Set at the beginning of World War One the story follows the Kipling family as 'Jack' Kipling (the myopic son of Rudyard Kipling) attempts to enrol in the army. His eventual position as an officer leads to pride, fear and bitter personal conflict as the cost of war weighs upon both the family and the nation.
The show is beautifully written offering pathos and many comic moments allowing the actors to really engage with the roles. Govind Hodgson creates an awkward and gangly 'Jack' for the first act which juxtaposes well with the confident young man that stands in the trench in act two. His relationship with his father Rudyard (David Clifton) demonstrates well the themes of dual admiration and frustation that run through the play and Clifton particularly reveals both the tenderness and bluster of Rudyard in their scenes together. The Kipling women are not outshone however, as Elizabeth Jee handles the depth of Mrs Kipling's emotions with subtlety and the final scenes with Clifton are very moving. Equally Ruth Minkley balances the childishness of daughter Elsie Kipling with her passionate arguments and speeches without allowing the character's tone to become repetitive.
Trench life is also re-created and the inclusion of sandbags and rain soundtrack is just enough to work the imagination without labouring the point. All three guardsmen offer strong performances and Saskia Solomans makes a surprisingly convincing male character. Their interaction is how we as an audience witness the adult 'Jack' and gain an insight to the political side of Rudyard. There is plenty of space for thought and reflection in the scriptwriting and inferred information regarding the characters adds to their realism.
In such a small space looking into the sitting room set really does feel like voyeurism and the simple amendments made between scenes offer just enough of an atmosphere without slowing the pace too much.
Given the restrictions of the venue this is a well staged production and the sincerity in the performances shines through. War is an emotive topic and makes the grieving poetry of Kipling forever timeless.
Reviewer: Amy Yorston