Brotherhood

Sat 2nd – Sat 9th August 2014

reviews

Emily Brearley-Bayliss

at 17:29 on 4th Aug 2014

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If you are looking for a partly comedic, partly emotional play about the relationships, lives, loves and losses of the First World War, then this is the play for you. Written and directed by Kingsley Walker, Brotherhood follows Jack (Rory Potts) and George, (Daniel Gaskin) two brothers fighting at the Western Front, through their innocent banter with the other soldiers to the bitter, heart-wrenching end. Interspersed with scenes that flash forward in time to observe how their mother and younger brother cope with the loss of the two boys, we are presented with a play that explores all aspects of World War I.

The acting was, on the whole, well done, and Gaskin gave a standout performance. He was both endearing and irritating as the happy-go-lucky younger sibling, but his death scene was definitely not as hard-hitting as I would have expected such a tragic ending to be. His relationship with his brother was nice, but not as gripping and involving as some other brother-brother relationships I have seen portrayed on stage.

The failure of Lily (Rochelle Oliver) to accept and move on from the death of her sons, and Michael’s (Theodore Walker) frustration with her and refusal to accept the truth about the war creates a tense relationship that is, at no point enjoyable to watch, but does showcase the acting potential of the pair.

As an original piece of writing, this play tackled a subject that is not only harrowing, sensitive and emotional, but that has been covered so extensively and in such a variety of ways that I am not sure that it succeeded in being original. Many of the successful elements, such as the playful, drunken banter between the men, were reminiscent of Blackadder and other sit-coms that deal with the topic of war, and the more emotional scenes were not as powerful as they could have been.

The relationships between the characters and their surroundings were well developed, but for some reason I felt apathy rather than attachment, and became bored about three quarters of the way through. This show should decide whether it wants to be a drama or a comedy, as, at the moment, it only very slightly misses the mark for both.

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Georgina Wilson

at 17:40 on 4th Aug 2014

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Even a fantastic play is no good if you can’t see it. This production opens when the highly energetic cast of young men, bright and shiny in their pre-war state, come dashing onto the stage only to throw themselves down in an explosion of hyperactive play-fighting. All four promptly disappear behind the torsos of the audience members in front, which seems a tad unfortunate.

To be fair to them, the majority of the play is carried out in my sightline. The story swings between the trenches and the dimly lit sitting room of a grieving mother and son. I prefer the banterous and action-packed trenches over the slightly clichéd lamenting mother figure, although the repetitive scenes at home do improve once they get past circular arguments and move into the realm of action.

The pick of the bunch is undoubtedly Daniel Gaskin playing George, the enthusiastic but naïve little brother of the “brotherhood”. His need for the others – for cigarettes, matches and so on – sparks anger which quickly escalates into an argument about the fact that there may well come a time when the boys can no longer “be there” for one another on the battlefield.

George keeps us chuckling with his ridiculously hyperbolic anecdotes about his escapades on the battle fields, but eventually the vaguely interesting point that is raised about truth: (“you were only two years old!” – “well it doesn’t affect the telling of the story”) wears thin. George soon annoys me as much as he annoys his fellow soldiers; although they aren’t a totally sympathy-provoking crew either.

Until the end, that is, when, like most war narratives, everyone goes over the top in a huge tragic/cathartic climax. The double structure of the play is neatly combined when the soldiers remain sleeping on stage for the mother and Michael (Theodore Walker) to walk on for another domestic crisis, at which point the boys wake up and the whole cast come together to enact their last poignant moments together before leaving for war.

The play, not musical in any other way, is framed by mother and son singing a variation on “My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean” – not particularly well or tunefully, but that’s hardly the point. They’re not supposed to be pop stars, just another family of millions caught up in the bleak tragedies of war. But this play struggles to stand out as more than just another piece of good theatre on that very same topic.

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