Convincing portrayal of Great War Tragedy in Lewes

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The excellent My Boy Jack, illustrating the torment of families seeing their sons going to the battlefront, is based on the true life story of the Kipling family and begins on the brink of the First World War.

In Mike Turner’s production Kipling, played by Peter Wellby, was compelling and entirely believable as this famous Sussex literary figure.

He effortlessly got under the skin of a man who though an attentive, loving father was also an egotist whose patriotic fervour enabled him to force through a plan to get his son in the British Army even though he had been deemed unfit due to his poor eyesight.

Cast alongside him was Owen Daughtery as his son John. Owen has a strong ‘period’ look and feel and this, coupled with a vulnerability and ability to be emotionally brave on stage, made for a strong core in this production.

Jenny Lloyd-Lyons as John’s mother Carrie brought an outward calm and uneasy endurance that was a perfect foil for the fervour of her husband, and Lauren-Nicole Little as sister Elsie used her natural energy and forthright style to great effect when confronting her controlling father.

In a well-played tragi-comic scene (Robert Woodbridge as the Army Doctor and Roger Murray as Col Pottle) John is put through the embarrassment of a full body examination while his father discusses his son’s military future. Kipling is enraged when the Army confirm that his son’s eyesight is too poor for active duty. Not content he pulls some strings with an old military friend of his and John goes to France.

The pre offensive scene in the trenches was convincingly played by Robert Woodbridge, David Grimston and James Meikle. They had clearly worked hard on rough and tumble camaraderie and the reality of life in the trenches.

John is reported missing in action. Over the next three years, his distraught parents track down surviving members from his battalion and interview them. Mr Franklin, played with sensitivity by James Meikle, visits the family bringing with him Guardsman Bowe played by Daniel Grimston who gives a moving performance in recounting the fate of John Kipling.

Special mention should be made of the high production values. The set design called for a period panelled room in Kipling’s home and a trench. Both were very well executed by Dominic Ramos and his team.

Mike Turner cast well and produced a confident and accomplished show.