Theatre: Back to barracks
BILOXI BLUES NATIONAL YOUTH THEATRE LONDON
Tuesday 01 September 1998
Endless young writers have been inspired to "write about what you know about". churning out versions of what Joyce called Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. However, few playwrights have taken the lead quite as literally as Neil Simon. After streams of smart, urban comedies he turned the clock back 40 years to write three autobiographical plays about his early years: Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound. With a cast almost entirely made up of young men undergoing basic military training, the second in his "Look Back Without Anger" trilogy is thus an entirely apt choice. Simon did his training in Denver, Colorado in 1945 but in Biloxi Blues he switched location to Mississippi. Not only out of his beloved Manhattan, we are also in new dramatic territory as, ironically, he almost abandons the machine-gun rattle of his two-liner formula: the automatic ricochet of set-up and punch line. But we're still in his trademark chocolate box, where even the hardest things have a sweet, soft centre. His heart-on-sleeve alter ego, Eugene, is a nice Jewish boy who dreams of becoming a writer. He's a gefillte fish out of water. Well- scrubbed David Nicolle has a naive, engaging warmth as he tells the story of 10 back-breaking Army weeks. He may not quite come across as echt Jewish (which may be a decision by the director, Ed Wilson) but the accent is vintage Woody Allen and he even has a gleaming, perfect-teeth, all-American smile. Thrown into Simon's carefully assembled bunch of types - the redneck (Sam Spruell), the "Polack" (Josh Cole) etc - Eugene tells us of their often comic exploits as they struggle to come to terms with enforced cohabitation, war, and strict obedience. Jack Pierce cuts an enormously impressive figure as the swaggering disciplinarian sergeant, his powerful voice commanding attention from the audience, let alone his raw recruits. Everyone seizes their opportunities, but the real stand-out is Matt Hickey as the nerdy Epstein. He may bear an uncanny resemblance to Radar from M*A*S*H but he has a relaxed presence and a quiet confidence which act as a still centre at the emotional high points. Let out on a pass, Eugene falls in love with Daisy - a nicely innocent and gently understated Claire Parsons - but it's really an all-boys show. The women get their turn in Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa and the season climaxes with a grand-scale Oedipus Rex at the Bloomsbury Theatre. At the very least, casting directors scouting for fresh talent should look no further.
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Video of Irish 'professional boxer' fighting Istanbul neighbourhood goes viral in Turkey
- 2 Novel Scarlett Johansson tried to ban, Grégoire Delacourt’s The First Thing You See, to be published in UK
- 3 A pint of water every day is the key to losing weight, scientists say
- 4 Russia 'accidentally reveals' number of its soldiers killed in eastern Ukraine
- 5 Carol Vorderman reveals she is 'covered in burns' after she fell off her treadmill while running naked
Dresden riots: Protesters in Germany attack refugee buses shouting 'foreigners out'
France train shooting: US soldiers speak of the moment they stopped gunman and 'beat him until he was unconscious'
Labour leadership: Jeremy Corbyn accused of 'deluding' young supporters with 'claptrap'
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Iain Duncan Smith calls for urgent ESA overhaul as part of drive to cut down welfare costs