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Last of the Boys review at Southwark Playhouse – ‘delicately observed’

Dmetri Goritsas and Todd Boyce in Last of the Boys at Southwark Playhouse, London. Photo: Ben Broomfield Dmetri Goritsas and Todd Boyce in Last of the Boys at Southwark Playhouse, London. Photo: Ben Broomfield
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Steven Dietz’s play, Last of the Boys, is haunted by the 1960s. Receiving its European premiere over 10 years since it was produced by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, it oozes Bob Dylan, JFK and flower power. We see the Vietnam War’s legacy played out in a modern day trailer park but for all the play’s undoubted strengths, it gets lost in its own symbolism. It’s also saddled with two pretty horrible female roles.

The guts of the play are pretty terrific though. Two Vietnam War veterans sip beer and shoot the breeze by a battered, remote caravan. Jeeter (Todd Boyce) is a drug-blasted hippy, spouting woo-woo about spirit quests and visions. Ben (Demetri Goritsas), his opposite, is introverted and isolated, a man afraid of words like “chakra, commitment and tofu”. Their odd couple relationship, one of jibes and mutual dependence, is a powerful thing and one that says much more about the effects of Vietnam than the posturing of Zoe Tapper’s kooky Sal or her telling-it-like-it-is mother Lorraine (Wendy Nottingham). Tapper and Nottingham are entirely blameless but these characters are half-sketched and heavy-handed and they suck the life out of proceedings.

The interplay between Jeeter and Ben, however, is delicately observed. Ben’s father has died but it’s Jeeter who attends the funeral. When Ben steals one of Jeeter’s anecdotes it feels like the greatest betrayal a friend could commit. Ben’s trippy segues, where he literally embodies the former Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara – the man who orchestrated America’s attack on north Vietnam – work well, though the impact is lessened considerably in front of a British audience for whom McNamara has nothing of the same cultural resonance.

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Touching production of a play about America’s modern-day relationship with the Vietnam War