My Boy Jack: Next Stage, Mission Theatre, Bath
My Boy Jack
Mission Theatre Bath
An anti-war play by coincidence rather than design, this is about the death of Kipling's 18-year-old son just a couple of weeks after arriving at the Battle of Loos in the Great War.
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There's a little light relief in the first act as Kipling bullies his son Jack into trying on a pair of pinz-nez in the hope that they, rather than his usual spectacles, will distract the army medical examiners from realising how poor Jack's eyesight really is.
While the army medicos bow and scrape to Kipling, one tells his son, "Why don't you get your kit off and we'll look at your physical gubbins." They soon realise he'd be better with a white stick than a rifle thus terminating his hopes of enlisting.
Unable to take the refusal, Kipling gets a place for his son by contacting the dying Lord Roberts, a friend, who gets Jack a place in his regiment.
While Jack is only joining in order to get away from his stifling dictatorial father, Kipling himself looks on it as chance to do his duty fighting for King, Country, and Empire. After Jack has gone to France his father remarks: "If by any chance Jack is dead this will the finest hour of his young life". Words that come back to haunt him.
Jack's sister Elsie is the only one to protest, while mother Carrie is browbeaten into submission.
Perfectly attired in period suits, dresses and uniforms this powerful play draws powerful and emotional performances from all. Dan Lea and Cara Withers, as Jack and Carrie, make superb maiden performances for Next Stage, while regulars David Gosling (Kipling), Caroline Groom (Carrie), Jason Lemoir (as various characters), Oscar Marcus (also new to Next Stage) also excel. Nicky Wilkins as shell shocked guardsman Michael Bowe, who finally brings eye-witness news of Jack's death, deserves an Oscar.
Sound effects, lighting and the front line trench set are more than convincing, transporting the audience easily even in this intimate theatre.
Amazingly, this period piece, directed by Yvonne Paulley, was written in 1997. Don't miss it. Performances as strong as these don't come often.