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Doctor Scroggy’s War

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Shakespeare’s Globe is one of the most embracing public theatre spaces in the capital, and in a year of inevitable remembrance for the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, it is gathering us together to hear the alternately punchy and poignant story of the treatment of the war’s physical casualties in a military hospital.

But playwright Howard Brenton wants us first to appreciate where they’ve come from and how they got there, via the trenches of the Battle of Loos and some 59,247 British casualties.

Act I is slightly formless, as it squeezes in jaunty portraits from the home life of Jack Twigg – who skips taking up his place to go to Oxford to sign up for the war – and the night of passion he shares with the Hon Penelope Wedgewood before he departs. And then, of course, there’s a scene in the trenches itself, and the soldiers’ charge into battle.

Act II, though a lot more earnest, is also much more involving, as we now visit the hospital where Twigg, who virtually lost his entire face, is being treated. Dr Gillies is the plastic surgery pioneer reconstructing it, and his story, in particular, is fascinating. Brenton now creates greater dramatic tension and interest, with hospital visits from royalty and Jack’s own parents providing particularly moving scenes.

John Dove’s production, with its live musicians providing atmospheric accompaniment, keeps the action fluid, and his actors – in particular Will Featherstone’s Jack and James Garnon’s Dr Gillies – lend strong characterisations to a play that sometimes trades in cliche but resonates with feeling.

Verdict: Intermittently powerful portrait of the First World War from the aftermath of injury

Mark Shenton

  • Shakespeare’s Globe, London
  • September 12-October 10, PN September 17, 2014
  • Author: Howard Brenton
  • Director: John Dove
  • Design: Michael Taylor
  • Technical: Wills production manager, Marion Marrs company manager, Vicky Berry stage manager, Terry King fight director, Hilary Lewis costume supervisor
  • Cast includes: James Garnon, Will Featherstone, Catherine Bailey, Patrick Driver, Katy Stephens, William Mannering
  • Producer: Shakespeare’s Globe
  • Running time: 2hrs 20mins
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The Stage
The Stage is a British weekly newspaper and website covering the entertainment industry, and particularly theatre. It was founded in 1880. It contains news, reviews, opinion, features, and recruitment advertising.
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