'If I was allowed to give this production six stars I would’
For my sins I knew little about Irwin Shaw. I remember in my youth coming across his novel ‘Rich Man, Poor Man’, which was made into a very successful television series in the ‘70s. I had an impression of a writer who was extremely capable but little more than that. Yet without a doubt his early expressionist play ‘Bury the dead’ puts him amongst the pantheon of great American writers such as Miller, Steinbeck and Hemmingway. That powerhouse of a theatre the Finborough has done it again with this marvelous revival.
At 21 Shaw was writing for Radio including scripts for Dick Tracy and the Gumps. At the age of just 23-in 1935- he wrote ‘Bury the Dead’. There have been many anti-war plays decrying the awful waste and senseless violence of it all. Where Shaw scores so heavily is not just in the plotting it is in his wonderful simplicity and directness of language.
The plot is relatively simple: six dead soldiers refuse to allow themselves to be buried. (Beautifully detailed work from amongst others Tom Larkin, Stuart Nunn and Keeran Blessie). The ‘coming alive’ of the men is a coup de theatre in itself. The soldiers stand before us and explain why they shouldn’t be forgotten. Shaw doesn’t invest them with elaborate speeches but spare and simple words that make it all the more shocking. These are angry young men who want to be alive. They have ‘important things to say’ about the kids ‘who shouldn’t be dead’. It’s all pretty devastating stuff. The top military brass attempt to crush the insurrection by whatever means they can think of. In the end they resort to using the wives, mothers and sisters to urge their men to lie down and be buried.
The acting throughout the company is superb. Sioned Jones gives a truly wonderful performance. She is an actor who can wring humour from any situation yet seconds later can reduce you to tears. At one point she is a mother who wishes to look upon her son’s face. When he reveals to her the ravages of his visage the guttural howl she emits is truly visceral. As the military top brass Simon Balfour and Malcolm Ward are deeply impressive. (I was reminded by Ward’s playing of the General of that great actor Lee J Cobb and then wasn’t surprised to learn that the latter was a great friend of Shaw’s.) Natalie Winsor is utterly convincing in everything she is given to do. She is an actor with a rich future ahead of her.
Verity Johnson’s set with its stark simplicity throws everything into monochrome relief. The work of the Movement Director Chi-San Howard in the choreographed dances is superb. Huge praise must be bestowed upon the director Rafaella Marcus. She has seen the bigger picture but has given every detail and moment great weight and heft. Just technically - and I have seen so many productions dragged down by this - every scene change is done with tremendous ease, accuracy and efficiency. She can be justly proud of her work.
If I was allowed to give this production six stars I would.
Photography: Scott Rylander
118 Finborough Road
Box Office 01223 357 851
Reviewer Richard Braine is actor, director and playwright.
As an Actor he has worked extensively throughout the country including Chichester Festival Theatre, Manchester Royal Exchange, Birmingham Rep, and Stephen Joseph Theatre in Yorkshire. His Television and Film credits include: “Calendar Girls”, “Pride, Prejudice and Zombies”, “Finding Neverland”, “Bridget Jones”, “Suspicions of Mr Whicher”, “Mr Selfridge” and many years ago Gussie Fink-Nottle in “Jeeves and Wooster”. He has also filmed over 150 Commercials all over the world.
He has directed the European premiere of Sternheim/Martin “The Underpants” at The Old Red Lion Theatre and written three plays: “Being There with Sellers”, “Bedding Clay Jones” and “Sexing Alan Titchmarsh”.