BURNING BLUE Haymarket, London00
Thursday 27 July 1995
When I reviewed the piece at the King's Head, I ended a largely positive notice with the comment: "It's intriguing that, in justly championing the rights of gay people to serve in the US military, the play never takes leave to question the value of being in the US military at all." Seeing for a second time John T Hickok's superbly acted production (improved now with the recasting of Tim Woodward as a more persuasively obsessive and class-grudge-fuelled special investigator), I realise that, in fact, scepticism about the value of serving in this institution pervades the play.
Greer constructs his often funny, sharply observed melodrama so as to place maximum emphasis on the fact that the military alienates men from their emotions. The point is underlined almost too insistently by the lieutenant nicknamed "Boner" (the brilliant Martin McDougall), the son of Iowa pigfarmers. Being working class (unlike his comrades who hail from emotionally repressed military dynasties), heterosexual Boner, we gather, is in touch with his feelings to the point of publicly and permanently groping them. Able to cry at funerals and demonstrate laid-back tolerance of the diverse ways in which people like to get laid, he's presented as the exception that proves the uptight rule.
Indeed, this is not a special interest play about gay rights at all (there's no discussion, for instance, of when, where and how sexuality could be openly recognised in the forces). It's a piece, rather, about how the military distorts the affective life of all its personnel, relying on butch male bonding, while refusing to recognise just where that ethos can lead. The wife of even the straightest of the men here is largely peripheral. When his best buddy turns out to be gay, what a heterosexual pilot may most feel, we see, is not revulsion but the disorienting grief of exclusion.
Antony Edridge's nobly suffering Dano has been helping his straight friend Will (Ian Fitzgibbon) cheat with his eye-tests, which leads you to suspect that Dano's lover Matt (Robert Bogue) will die as a result of Will's poor vision, thus creating the tragic twist. In fact, he is killed because "he took his private life into the aircraft", flying after a turbulent showdown with his ghastly wife.
This play offers no comfort to those who argue that you can compartmentalise your life to suit the requirements of the services. The line that got a round of delighted applause on the Press night was Boner's response to being asked what he thought he was doing in a gay disco: "Come on, Dano, the music's better and the people are more fun." It's to be hoped that Burning Blue finds an audience beyond this readily assenting constituency.
n Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London SW1. Booking: 0171-930 8800
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days
Oscar voter speaks outfilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 2 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 3 What color is The Dress, white and gold or blue and black? An eyewitness gives a definitive answer
- 4 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
- 5 Fearne Cotton quits Radio 1 after ten years for 'family and new adventures'
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Aqsa Mahmood branded a 'disgrace' by her parents after claims she recruited three UK girls flying to Middle East