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Theatre-goers lucky enough to have seen this epoch-making production will be reminiscing about it for years.
In a commercial landscape where it has become almost impossible to see a decent play respectably performed, lovely Lichfield is over-blessed with shows engineered by a plethora of enthusiasts for whom the title amateur expresses only their deep and genuine love of drama. Their taste is catholic and their nets widely cast. The last few years have literally been their golden age.
But for me Chris Stanley’s production of David Haig’s My Boy Jack about revered writer Rudyard Kipling hits sensitive spots that have not been even remotely tickled for quite a while.
This play makes clear that the charm of Kipling’s children’s books obscured his dangerously militarist Baden-Powellesque jingoism which drove the engines of an empire soon to falter fatally in the Great War. With hindsight it seems that almost without pause this led to the Second World War with whose catastrophic results we’re still trying to deal.
Nigel Lowe as the great man himself gives a tour-de-force portrayal that powerfully embodies the great masculine flaw of having to be right at all times against all obvious odds.
Shane Harper as the boy of the title breaks the heart with his young, secretive self cast into a cauldron of his elders’ making. Rachel Duncan as Kipling’s American wife seems to me a consummate performer. Here her deportment and impeccable New England accent were of National Theatre standard.
The scene in the trenches before the Irish Guards went over the top was one of the most effective and moving scenes I have witnessed in a long time, pure Wilfred Owen. As the lads, veterans Adrian Venables and Ian Davies were at the top of their game but relative local newcomer Greg Spencer stole the show with his catastrophically traumatised peasant-farmer turned soldier who witnessed Kipling’s son’s agonising death. His performance alone made this production a must-see for anyone who has any taste at all.
Miss this masterpiece at your peril. Get a ticket (if you can) before its all-too-brief run ends or miss one of the greatest triumphs of local theatre, packed with great performances, for an age. It defies mere praise.
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