Held in the newly refurbished Studio in Colchester’s Mercury theatre as part of the Made in Colchester Season 2015, last night I saw Bully Boy make its triumphant comeback, directed by Dan Sherer, three years after it first debuted in London.
Sandi Toksvig’s stark play examines postwar trauma inspired by her own in-depth research and ‘rage’ on behalf of the young men sent to war based on political bidding, all captured in a heartfelt 90 minutes.
Initially set in the dusty Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, we meet Major Oscar Hadley (played by Andrew French), a Falklands veteran who stands to give a statement on the story yet to unfold. Young private Edward Clark (played by Josh Collins), or ‘Eddie’ as we come to know him, is being investigated by the wheelchair bound Major Hadley after an eight-year-old boy, Omar, is thrown down a well and killed during combat. 20-year-old Eddie is in the firing line and Major Hadley has been sent in to establish the facts, having already questioned Clark’s platoon, his ‘Bully Boys’. A defensive Eddie denies murdering the boy and later, as Hadley and his witnesses return from visiting the scene of the incident, their convoy detonates a bomb. Carnage ensues and Clark pulls Hadley out of the burning car, saving his life, but for his ‘Bully Boys’ it’s too late.
As the aftermath of the tragic event unfolds a bond develops between the two men as they realise they are strangely similar, both having faced harrowing warfare, death and terror, demonstrating the tragic effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Hadley hones a secret drinking problem and temporary loss of hearing, whilst Clark, a psychiatric casualty, is sent to The Priory to undergo electroconvulsive therapy shockingly still used to treat severe depression.
There are light-hearted moments carefully intertwined into the serious plot line that raises many good points, particularly the number of soldiers who return from the front line yet the battle isn’t over, with a large number tragically committing suicide. Also pouring scorn on politicians including Blair and Thatcher.
Andrew French and Josh Collins give highly accomplished performances, particularly French’s portrayal of the agony of his injuries and exasperation in dealing with Clark, and Collins delivery of an angry, frustrated young soldier, barely a man yet with the weight of a war and the death of his friends on his shoulders.
During a poignant moment in the play, Major Hadley reminds us that too often we expect those who go to war to have an ability we ourselves don’t possess. To cope.
In the word’s of Sandi Toksvig, ‘It is a play of many truths, not just one truth’, and sometimes they are the unspeakable truths we rarely see put before us that this play so bravely and honestly confronts.
Bully Boy runs at the Mercury Theatre until 21st November 2015. Visit www.mercurytheatre.co.uk to buy tickets.
Images: Robert Day