Charlie Quirke

Our Boys

13/08/18

PQA Venues, Riddle’s Court, Edinburgh

In the ward of a military hospital, a group of injured soldiers are recuperating from a variety of injuries. Keith (Christopher Lowry) is suffering from mysterious leg pains which the doctors seem unable to correctly diagnose. Ian (Michael Larcombe) has been so badly injured by a sniper’s bullet, he can barely form words. Parry (Charlie Quirke) has lost some toes, Mick (Alastair Natkiel) has recently been circumcised for ‘health reasons’, while Joe (Declan Perring), the longest serving inmate, sees himself as the wheeler-dealer of the group, forever wangling perks for the others, forever pulling strings on their behalf – and we do not learn what has actually happened to him for quite some time…

Into this powder keg limps Posh (Nick Seenstra), a young trainee officer currently suffering from the indignity of a pilonidal abscess. He is immediately seen as an outsider, a threat to the squaddies whose space he will now be sharing. Playwright Jonathan Lewis has first hand experience of the situation, having spent time himself in a military hospital in Woolwich.

This is an intensely masculine drama, where at times the levels of testosterone bubbling away onstage threaten to explode into the audience. Though it deals with the very serious issues of PTSD and the callous way in which disabled squaddies are casually tossed onto the scrapheap, it’s also periodically very funny. A sequence spoofing Robert De Niro’s The Deerhunter is hard to resist and so is the scene where the lads lay on a birthday party for Ian, only to discover – well, I won’t spoil it for you. It’s certainly not all laughs though. When somebody tips off the authorities about the presence of illegal alcohol on the ward, suspicion inevitably falls on Posh; of course he’s going to revert to type – he’s a would-be officer, right? But is he really to blame?

The performances here are all pretty good, though Natkiel’s Mick is a particular delight, forever managing to say the wrong thing at the wrong time in a wheedling Brummie accent. Be advised, this important play’s hard-hitting conclusion will surely send you out into the night with a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Early Birds

13/08/18

PQA Venues, Riddle’s Court, Edinburgh

Early Birds is a gentle tribute to the hit TV sit-com, Birds of a Feather. Penned by the same writers, Maurice Gran and Laurence Marks, it charts the development of the show, from its inauspicious conception to the mighty 13 million viewers who tuned in for the first episode. It made stars of its lead actors, notably Linda Robson and Pauline Quirke, and it’s the latter whose project this really is, commissioned especially for the Pauline Quirke Academy’s inaugural Edinburgh Fringe programme.

Fans of the original sit-com will no doubt be charmed by this addition to the canon. There are no great revelations, but we do learn about the crucial moment when Maurice (Alastair Natkiel) saw two women and their gangster boyfriends looking incongruous in a posh hotel, and began to ruminate on their circumstances, thus sparking the idea. And it’s interesting to see the writers’ battles with bureaucracy, all the ‘nearlies’ and ‘almosts’ that could easily have sunk the show.

Harriet Watson and Katriona Perrett are perfectly cast as Pauline/Sharon and Linda/Tracey, giving lively, sparky performances. Sue Appleby is also good as Lesley Joseph/Dorien, and Charlie Quirke (Pauline Quirke’s real-life son) is quite the scene-stealer, both as Mr Timms, the supercilious dole officer sneering at Pauline’s thespian aspirations, and as Allan, a wheeler-dealer TV producer/money man.

If there’s a problem, it’s to do with a script that feels more like TV than theatre, with lots of short scenes that flit between locations, and it’s not helped by all the unnecessary moving of furniture. Why are there two different sofas being dragged on and off the stage, for example? Surely a throw or a even a change of lighting would be enough to let us know we’re somewhere else at another time? The frequent set changes slow down the pace and disrupt the story’s flow.

The best part by far is the re-enactment of the first episode’s recording, complete with floor managers, make-up artists and even a warm-up comedian. This section is a lot of fun, and the performers are clearly enjoying what they do.

If you fancy a slice of nostalgia and enjoy an origins story, then this just might be the show for you.

3 stars

Susan Singfield