Johnny Got His Gun

Essi Rossi after Dalton Trumbo
Rossi, Holopainen, Riikonen in association with From Start to Finnish
ZOO Southside

Johnny Got His Gun Credit: Ilkka Saastamoinen

Based on Dalton Trumbo’s 1938 novel, Johnny Got His Gun details Joe Bonham’s plight as he writhes and rages on a hospital bed with his limbs and face destroyed by a hand grenade, unable to see, hear or communicate in any way other than beating his head against his pillow in the hope someone will understand.

Told against a wall of fluorescent lights with few props other than the clinically shining steel table and a microphone stand, this performance re-reckons the anti-war parable through a timeless lens. This Joe is a rockstar bedroom teenager, in a ripped t-shirt and with a bubbling enthusiasm for life that is as infectious as it is tragic with a soundtrack that skews news reports and fragments of political speeches from the last century, right up to modern day.

Johannes Holopainen’s performance shows a near mercurial physicality that far outreaches the constraints of his body seeming at times to be tiny, cowering under the hospital bed, and at others, towering over the audience like a giant. A spinning, cavorting, giant of barely repressed energy, only to deflate like the ghost of a whisper to interact with the crowd and gently tap or touch a hand or arm.

It’s a painful, sometimes uncomfortably comic and strangely hopeful ponderance on the horrors of war and conflict and the endurance of the human soul over unimaginable pain and tragedy. A beautiful and powerful piece of theatre that leaves you as breathless and stunned as you could possibly want.

Reviewer: Graeme Strachan