Howard Brenton's new play, directed with warmth and humour by John Dove, tells the true story of pioneering plastic surgeon Dr Howard Gillies, who specialised in facial reconstruction during the First World War.
Gillies, played with gung-ho plumminess by James Garnon, is a maverick with unconventional working methods; he carries an oar with him through the hospital wards sometimes because, “it helps me think”.
When 'temporary gentleman' Jack Twigg (an endearing performance from Will Featherstone) is injured, he struggles to deal with the physical and emotional damage, and misses the adrenaline rush of battle, but Gillies and his mad Scottish alter ego Doctor Scroggy won't let him stay in the doldrums for long.
With darkly witty lines like “mutilation is a great leveller”, the story finds humour and tragedy in the shake-up of the English class system during the war years.
Ballsy aristocrat Penelope Wedgewood (Catherine Bailey) plays Twigg's sweetheart with straight-talking charm, while Twigg's working class mum (Katy Stephens - hilarious) is bowled over by his social climbing.
This heartwarming portrait showing both the hardship and the camaraderie that wartime engenders avoids presenting the conflict in a wholly tragic light — and is all the more fascinating for it.
Until 10 September; 020 7401 9919Reuse content