Guest contributor Paul T. Davies reviewed Bully Boy at Mercury Theatre Colchester on Monday 9th November for Keep Colchester Cool.

REVIEW: BULLY BOY.

This is the perfect play to officially reopen the fully refurbished Mercury Studio, an intense ninety minute drama on contemporary themes. Sandi Toksvig’s powerful play explores the Iraq/ Afghanistan conflict, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the lack of support for returning soldiers by focussing on the developing friendship between a young private, Eddie, who is being investigated by a military police officer, Oscar. The cause of the investigation was an incident in Iraq or Afghanistan (it is not specified where), in which a local woman was shot and her eight year old son, Omar, was thrown down a well to his death- possibly by Eddie, but the circumstances remain unclear.

It is a taut, powerful production, brilliantly designed by James Cotterill, enhanced by haunting lighting and sound. The two performances are excellent, engaging and thought provoking, getting to the heart of two complex characters. As Oscar, a wheelchair user since the Falklands conflict, Andrew French delivers fine physicality and authority, slowly letting his respect and fondness for Eddie emerge, understanding that there are too many broken boys back in civilian life. Josh Collins is outstanding as Eddie, his rage, violence, pride, shame and denial all exposed to us at different times, shifting our viewpoint of him, making us unable to locate his actions- did he do it or not? Above all, he reminds us that he is just 20 years old, too young to have witnessed what he saw and what he did. The actors skilfully perform the transitions of emotions that the two damaged soldiers go through, haunted by the past, and the ghost of Omar, offering no easy solutions but gradually arriving at an understanding of each other.

In Dan Sherer’s excellent direction no corner of the script is left unexplored, and the devil is in the detail. It is the non verbal moments that stay with you, Oscar rising out of his wheelchair, determined to walk to his reward of a glass of wine as a haunting cello plays in the background. Eddie’s eyes, always watching, never at rest, fearing the worse. The genius of Toksvig’s script is that, with just two characters, she encapsulates what I imagine to be the violence, fear, and above all the comradeship of a soldier’s life.

An outstanding production that is not to be missed and I hope a sign of challenging work to come in the studio! After a strong year of productions at the Mercury, for me, this tops the list.

★★★★★

Until November 21st. Box office: 01206 573948 www.mercurytheatre.co.uk

PAUL T. DAVIES


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