Johnny Got His Gun at the Playhouse
Johnny Got His Gun is a forgotten classic that really should be remembered. Adapted from Dalton Trumbo’s 1930s anti-war novel, the story revolves around a young First World War soldier who wakes up one day to find himself in hospital with no arms, legs or face. He has lost all senses and can only feel the vibrations of footsteps or the touch of his nurse when she changes his bedsheets. He has become a living torso, battling with the one thing he is in control of: his mind.
At first Joe is in a coma: he reminisces about his youth, his parents, his girl and causing havoc with his friends, falling in and out of dreams, while coming to terms with the reality of the fatal accident that left him in this deformed state. His survival instincts drive him towards control through a perception of time as he vows to not lose himself in the deepest darkest corners of his thoughts. Joe is young, he is a survivor and he wants to live, and through his vulnerable state (not dead yet not a true survivor) is given time to reflect on the true nature of war.
Director David Mercatali does justice to Trumbo’s novel – not an easy feat to set on stage, considering the subject matter and shifting time frame. Jack Holden is absolutely stellar, giving a big performance on a small stage. Praise is also due to the backstage team controlling light and sound: by the flick of a switch, the audience transcends time and thought between Joe’s memories, musings and current state.
The anti-war message is as clear as day as Joe comes to terms with the nature of battle. Though set during the turn of the 20th century and written 15 years later, the message is still relevant as we ship out our troops who are very much like Joe; young men who haven’t yet figured out their futures, plunging themselves into war head first, plucked with messages of liberty and respect. As he lay on the battlefield after being hit by a shell, Joe was not thinking about his bravery or the medals he would earn after the war, instead he lay there vulnerable, crying out for the comfort of his mother. The underlying message is that not only should war not be fought in such a way again, it should never be fought in any way at all.
Johnny Got His Gun is at Southwark Playhouse until 14th June 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.