Theatre review: Our Boys at the Duchess Theatre

Audience is drawn in by powerful revival of Jonathan Lewis’s play set in military hospital, Our Boys at the Duchess Theatre

There are plenty of recognisable faces in this revival of Jonathan Lewis’s play Our Boys at the Duchess Theatre. But luckily the production has more to offer than famous faces.

The residents of Ward 9, Bay 4 of the Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital, Woolwich in early 1984 seem at first to be an eccentric grouping of army men. Their ailments range from the mild (ladies’ man Joe, played by a frequently semi-naked Laurence Fox, has an amputated finger) to the severe (wheelchair-bound Ian is suffering from being shot in the head), via the bizarre. Keith, played by Cian Barry, has a leg problem of unknown cause; Parry, played with energy by Doctor Who’s Arthur Darvill, has had his toes amputated; while Mick, played by Matthew Lewis of Harry Potter fame, is recovering from a circumcision. What unites the men, albeit loosely, is boredom, frustration and banter.

The jokes are largely harmless at first, although the arrival of a “Rupert” (potential army officer) to the ward – with his obvious difference from the others in status, education and even religion –introduces a note of tension. But when the group hold an illicit party in a very funny scene (the highlight being a drinking game version of the Deer Hunter: “Beer Hunter”), it rounds off an enjoyable but slightly meandering first half. As it turns out, however, both the Rupert’s arrival and the party itself are the eventual causes of some much more dramatic scenes – revealing the truth behind each of the solders’ attitudes to the others. In the end they are united by more than their common location. The army made them who they are, but now they are injured, does it want them anymore?

David Grindley’s production of the play creates a highly convincing impression of the group’s shifting dynamics. Each of the performers is excellent; Lewis Reeves, playing Ian, actually drew gasps from the audience with his physical transformation during the course of the play. And testament to the play’s power is the way the audience is drawn in to care deeply about the group’s activities and eventual fates. Highly recommended.

* At the Duchess Theatre, WC2, until December 15. Visit