Thursday, March 29, 2018

Dr Scroggy’s War - confident performances that question what motivates patriotism (Lyric Drama Studio until 31 March)

Dr Scroggy’s War is a Howard Brenton play that steps into the trenches of the First World War and behind the scenes of the pioneering facial reconstruction surgery carried out by Harold Gillies on injured servicemen. The piece shows off the talents of 21 members of the Lyric Drama Studio which works with 18-25 year olds who want to develop their skills and are considering a career in acting.

James Wallis plays working class Jack Twigg who postpones an Oxford scholarship to join up as an officer with the London Irish Rifles. He identifies a weakness in the plans for the Battle of Loos. When his reservations are ignored he joins the front-line and is exposed to the deadly shelling. Wallis balances an inner feeling of self-confidence and patriotism with a nervousness about the unfamiliar worlds into which he is dropped and later a despair at his future prospects.

The first half of the play explores the issues of class, hierarchy and the horror of combat while after the interval, the focus switches back in England where Gillies (Colm McCready) is the eccentric father of plastic surgery and works hard to boost morale among the disfigured soldiers. A skilled surgeon by day, McCready ably portrays the medic’s madcap eponymous alter ego which comes out at night to inject patients with the medicine of fun.

Sister Catherine Black is ably played by Katherine Devlin as she tries to bring decorum to the wards and Gillies' excesses. Maryann Maguire impresses as Twigg’s mother, initially flippant but later filled with loving concern when she visits her injured son. Overall it’s a tight ensemble performance right across the cast who maintain a range of English and Irish accents throughout the play.

Chris Warner’s sound design provides scenes with the sound of echoey hospital corridors, swanky parties and battle fields: one of the most sensitive and effective soundtracks I’ve heard in recent months. Stuart Marshall’s set allows wooden panels to be rearranged, creating rooms and doubling up as the retaining walls of the trenches.

The highlight of the play is a royal visit which both moves (amplified by Megan McGarry’s poise and measured movement as Queen Mary) and entertains (thanks to Matt Cavan’s music hall choreography). While the final scenes in Brenton’s script quickly squeeze in a whole raft of ideas around pacifism and the Easter Rising, Philip Crawford’s direction keeps its pace and soldiers on towards the finale.

The Lyric Drama Studio’s satisfying and confident production of Dr Scroggy’s War shines a light onto new aspects of a war which is under the centenary spotlight and reminds audiences that out of conflict comes the invention of products, techniques and practices that can later benefit all of society. Its questioning of why people remain patriotic in the face of the hell of war has contemporary relevance as conflicts around the world are beamed onto our screens.

The totally sold out run continues until Saturday 31 March with just a few tickets still available for the Friday 7.30pm performance.

Photo credit: Neil Harrison

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