Written for Time Out
With this accomplished inaugural show, the newly-opened St James Theatre is showing itself to be a safe pair of hands for more conservative off-West End audiences.
In Sandi Toksvig’s ‘Bully Boy’, Major Oscar Hadley is brought in to interrogate Private Eddie Clark over the fatal throwing of an Arab boy down a well. But after an explosion makes the two men emotionally interdependent, the situation becomes tragically clouded as we see both are suffering from combat stress.
‘Bully Boy’ is an empathic exploration of the mental cost of war, driven by a desire to confront difficult subjects. One of our most beloved polymaths, Toksvig is a skilled writer. But in her eagerness to understand each man’s damaged perspective she is unable to do justice to Clark’s victim and those like him. As such, this is a very western-centred account, in which disquieting questions about institutional cover-ups are glossed over.
Patrick Sandford’s production is as assured as it is expensive. Anthony Andrews is plummy perfection as Hadley whilst Joshua Miles’s Burnley-born Clark is a skeleton of explosive energy. The backdrop is stylised, but John Leonard’s realistic sound design shocks us out of any complacency.
‘Bully Boy’ firmly places combat stress in the spotlight. But Toksvig’s heartfelt play and Sandford’s polished staging are in danger of sending a well-heeled audience out with their liberal consciences safely appeased, never truly tested.
Runs until 27th October