For King and Country at the Southwark Playhouse
Based on the novel Return to the Wood by JL Hodson, which saw its first performance at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal in 1964, For King and Country takes us to the trenches where shell-shocked soldier Private Arthur Hamp faces trial for possible desertion. Set in 1918 on the Western Front, the light falls on a new set of heroes of the Great War a hundred years on: the men who abandoned their military posts, over 300 of whom were executed for the crime of cowardice or desertion, but whom we now understand to have been suffering from what is known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In the spirit of Catch 22, with similar characters such as the pitiable padre and the doctor who is clearly overworked and desensitised due to the nature of his demanding job, this play transcends time, questioning the necessities of war and the casualties that go far beyond the simple dualism of victory and loss.
Unlike the womanising Yossarian however, Hamp (Adam Laurence) is an unlikely bête noire, who is having to fight for his life in this tense courtroom drama due to the unforgiving internal battle that, in its modern translation, leaves many young men lining the edges of our streets with neglected mental health problems caused by the endless conflicts in which they serve.
An impressionably simple yet subtly poignant set design by Jacqueline Gunn, who also worked at the production of Beckett’s much-loved Krapp’s Last Tape, is here to be celebrated alongside director Paul Tomlinson, whose production brought to the stage a celebrated portrayal of the 1918 Western Front for the first time in 30 years.
This all-male cast celebrates exceptional performances by Lawrence, Lloyd Everitt, Eugene Simon and a burst of theatrical vigour from Andrew Cullum, whose over-the-top spitting, stressing and straining glances give energy to a heavy theme. Not forgetting the funny presence of the Corporal of the Guard, fittingly captured by Cameron Robertson.
For King and Country is a striking, avant-garde piece of theatre that re-imagines a forgotten and timeless classic.
Photo: Alex Brenner
For King and Country is at the Southwark Playhouse from 28th June until 21st July 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.