Colchester Mercury Studio
November 9th 2015
Choosing to revive Sandi Toksvig’s Bully Boy for the opening of the refurbished Mercury Studio seems a brave choice. Toksvig is hardly a cigar-chewing-hawk and in a garrison town a story about the investigation of a soldier in connection with a war-crime will always be a delicate matter. However Bully Boy is not a pacifist polemic but a rugged piece of story-telling which, whilst it rages against the war, also makes the distinction between it and those to whom its execution falls.
Oscar, an officer whom we assume has been disabled in the Falklands, is investigating the part played by Eddie, a private, in the death of a boy in… Iraq? Afghanistan? It is not made clear and neither is it of significance. The setting is sufficiently clear for the full range of army vernacular to be deployed, often with great comic effect. Andrew French as Oscar and Josh Collins as Eddie deliver strong performances although they never quite build up sufficient static between their characters for the possible discharge to become a matter of great anticipation. Differences in class, education and geography conflagrate their relationship and yet they may be more closely allied than either is willing to see.
No doubt those versed in military procedure will complain at the nature of their relationship and the degree of socialising which occurs between accuser and accused, officer and other rank. The programme notes of director Dan Sherer directly request indulgence with regard to this and that indulgence is warranted – just. That it is, is due significantly to the atmosphere created by James Cotterill’s arid set of rock, rust and dust in combination with Rebecca Applin’s score, chiefly a moodily sawn solo cello. Together they wove a net under which the script’s flaws, a meandering middle to add to the military improbabilities mentioned above, were camouflaged.
And what of the Studio’s make-over? The rather emotionless and cold feeling of the old studio has been replaced by something far warmer and more intimate. It feels as though it will be a splendid space to watch theatre in and I look forward to returning soon.