The Long and the Short and the Tall

Willis Hall
Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield

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Arriving from a freezing cold Sheffield night into a wooden hut in the steamy Malayan jungle, birds singing in the background, bright sunlight filtering through the wooden slats, must have taken some elderly members of the audience back a few years. This Army patrol, fifteen Nipponese filled miles from base, brought those endearing qualities of the squaddie to the fore, with the Southerner fighting with the Geordie, the Welshman with the Scot, the privates with the lance corpora,l and showing its age with the very limited degree of swearing intervening between the abuse.

The atmosphere changed when a figure was spotted approaching the hut, stopped to relieve himself in the undergrowth, and then stumbled hesitantly into the apparently empty hut, a single Japanese soldier, out for a stroll with his mortars round his waist. Communication with him is no easier than through the defunct radio, but somehow, a friendship of sorts is established with this visitor - cigarettes used to be a valuable currency for this purpose.

While this play may have brought back the shame and incompetence of the British performance in Singapore, it had more recent intimations of Iraq. How does one treat a captured prisoner when you are all likely to be in the same situation shortly and in any case are in conditions of extreme danger?

Josie Rourke, making her Lyceum directorial debut, captured the claustrophobic atmosphere of the wide open jungle - an oxymoron if ever there was one - and the internecine fighting of small isolated group, picking up all the nuances of power, rank and regional differences. The sergeant, Jason Merrells, was a truly powerful and dominant figure, standing no nonsense and also recognising his responsibility to take the difficult decisions, often shirked by the less experienced NCOs. These men, far from home, reminisced effectively, Craig Gallivan reading a woman's magazine sent by his mother, or David Dawson, the optimist trying to urge life from the flattened battery and wondering whether his girl friend of three months standing over a year ago had stopped writing because she had found someone else. Tom Brooke had the interesting role, playing it well, as the noisy undisciplined barrack room lawyer who taught the Jap to 'speak English' - Dai Tabuchi who had not a word to say, yet acted superbly.

Runs until 11th March and then transfers to the Theatre Royal Norwich

Reviewer: Philip Seager

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