A LETTER FROM LONDON: Much Ado in India, Cabaret and I Am a Camera, Alan Ayckbourn's Chorus of Disapproval

By Ruth Leon
03 Nov 2012

Laurence Fox and Cian Barry in Our Boys.
Photo by Alastair Muir
And now for, as Monty Python used to say, something completely different. With an unpopular war or two going on it is inevitable that the theatre will hold up a mirror to what's happening.

Not over there, but over here when the boys get back. Our Boys at the Duchess Theatre is a searing and beautifully written drama by Jonathan Lewis about six young men — recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan — in a military hospital ward recovering (or not) from various wounds, both physical and emotional.

Bully Boy, at the new St. James Theatre, is a two-actor play about war, friendship, and that perennial British preoccupation, class. It stars Anthony Andrews — in his strongest performance in years — as a wheelchair-using officer of the old school, trying to decide whether a chippy working-class soldier (Joshua Miles, almost frighteningly believable) is or is not culpable in the death of his comrades.

Bully Boy is, rather surprisingly, by the writer-comedienne Sandi Toksvig, who has managed to get into the heads of these alpha male characters and write a scary examination of what war means today.


On a (much) lighter note, at the Pinter Theatre is Alan Ayckbourn's A Chorus of Disapproval. Ayckbourn is the master of the English middle class. His infallible ear for the way people actually speak and his ability to heighten without parody is uncanny. In this comedy about community theatre or, as it known here, amdram, is not only funny but possessed of a splendid understanding of English innocence. Nigel Harman plays a man who joins a small town group putting on a production of The Beggar's Opera and, with no intention to do so, proceeds to decimate the company both on- and off-stage. Ayckbourn writes the best first acts outside of Shakespeare, although, as here, by the second act, the hilarious situations he has set up in the first tend to tip over into preposterousness by the end. No matter, A Chorus of Disapproval is hugely entertaining.