Middle Ground Theatre Company produced a sublime adaptation of The Holly And The Ivy last year so I was expecting great things from their world premiere of James Kennaway's classic, which many will remember was the basis of a film made in 1960 starring Alec Guinness.
Set in a regimental barracks in 1950, Major Jock Sinclair (Stuart McGugan) is a man who has worked his way through the ranks but his love of the bottle and his laissez-faire approach to management is about to come to an abrupt end. In comes Colonel Basil Burrow (Patrick Ryecart), a stickler for the rules and completely at odds with Jock's laid back attitude to life.
With a premise like this you may expect fireworks, powerhouse performances and gripping subplots to keep you glued to your seat. Alas, this not so as the narrative crawls at a snail's pace and this is not helped by constant set changes which remove the audience from the action. The music, although beautiful, is too loud and repetitive to have the desired effect of moving people to tears.
Film projections are used during many scenes. Some of the video footage simply repeats what can be seen on stage. One clumsily inserted moving image highlights Colonel Burrow's fragile state of mind. This feels patronizing as the audience again feels robbed of an imagination.
Of the actors, McGugan is more than adequate; but even he cannot stop the play from descending into unintentional comedy. As Jock leaves the stage crying "Take Me Home" you may end up wanting to join him. Ryecart fares even less well as he is simply not as authoritative, scary or believable as he should be. You do not feel for him at all, yet the whole plot hinges on the plight of this broken man.
Michael Lunney is the set designer, director, producer and actor. This is a major problem as this piece feels like a vanity project based on his love of a film. Rose-tinted affection is not enough to save this mind-numbing epic from being a complete waste of time.
With gripping explorations of war such as Journey's End wowing audiences with its raw emotion, there is no place for a misguided mess such as this. Even fans of the film will go home wondering what the point was.
- Glenn Meads (reviewed at The Lowry, Salford)