Television can make gods of competent actors. The womanly throng crowding the stage door of Our Boys is hungry for Laurence Fox (Lewis), Arthur Darvill (Dr Who) and Matthew Lewis (a nicely matured Neville Longbottom from Harry Potter). But it’s to their credit that the other three actors in this six-man piece are equally good.
This may be the first time in history a play has been inspired by a pain in the arse: writer, and sometime Soldier, Soldier actor Jonathan Guy Lewis had a spell in hospital when an officer cadet on an army University scholarship, suffering from pilonidal cyst, a painful anal abscess which allowed him to observe – as much as you can when face down on your bed – the antics and personalities of the other ward residents, mostly Northern Ireland veterans.
It’s all cock in this play: Fox is the sexually-successful ‘Battersea Boner’, a ringleader whose natural ability to inspire confidence challenges that of the trainee officer also billeted on the ward, Lewis is a knob-end whose knob end has been bruisingly circumcised, and Darvill a twitchy and dangerously self-serving dick whose actions eventually provide the pivot on which the play turns from knockabout banter to something more involved and intriguing.
This is the second best play with soldiers in wheelchairs we’ve seen in a week. Sandi Toksvig’s intense and impeccable Bully Boy at the newly opened St James Theatre takes the prize – it’s a Journey’s End for the Helmand generation – but Our Boys is more openly entertaining and comic despite its now-dated racism, sexism and fart-jokes and if it takes a while to soften you up, the dramatic climax is all the more electric for that. The scene where the sextet plays Russian roulette with beer cans in homage to The Deer Hunter is worth the ticket price on its own.
Darvill’s appearance brought the Dr Who brigade out in force. We sat in the same row as Mrs Laurence Fox, Billie Piper, and directly in front of David Tennant. Matt Smith was just across the aisle. Interestingly, those two deliberately sidestepped each other after the performance, although whether out of politeness or to avoid a split in the space-time continuum when two Doctors collide, we couldn’t say.
We know fans hang on their idols’ every word, so are pleased to report that Tennant’s immediate after-curtain reaction was “I need a wee”, although when informed by his friends they were going straight to the after-show party, he conceded “Oh, okay then, I’ll wee there”.
Hey-ho the glamorous life of your dutiful reporter among television Royalty in London’s glittering West End.
Our Boys continues at the Duchess Theatre, currently booking to 15 December 2012. Evenings Mon-Sat at 7.45pm, matinees Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2.45pm. Tickets £20 to £45 from 0844 412 4659 or book online.
JohnnyFox received complimentary tickets, programmes and hospitality from Arthur Leone PR.