My Boy Jack
1 - 8 February 2014
Sat 7:45pm, Mon 7:45pm, Tue 7:45pm, Wed 7:45pm, Thu 7:45pm, Fri 7:45pm, Sat 2:45pm, Sat 7:45pm
This moving fact based drama traces the effect on the Kipling family of the death of their only son in the First World War. It is particularly poignant and appropriate as 2014 is the 100th Anniversary of the beginning of that conflict.
My Boy Jack is appropriately set one hundred years ago – the events in the life of one of our literary giants, Rudyard Kipling, and the story of how his son went to war in 1914. Much of the play takes place in Kipling’s Jacobean manor house, Batemans, in Burwash.
Kipling was a great patriot and believer in the need to defend the family of nations, which was how he described the British Empire, from what he saw as the ‘Teuton invasion’ which would destroy civilisation as we knew it. In urging all young men to enlist and fight to preserve the British way of life he found that his own son Jack was not accepted for the forces because of very poor eyesight.
Kipling was well connected with senior figures in the army and persuaded the Irish Guards to offer John a commission at the age of 16. By the time he was eighteen in 1915 John led his platoon into action in the battle of Loos. The story of how he was reported Missing Believed Injured and the family's distress as they searched for their missing son makes an exciting and very moving play.
2 2014 is the first year of the commemorations for the First World War and Lewes Theatre has programmed in a most appropriate play in My Boy Jack. Not only does it examine the issues of patriotism and jingoism that were part of the causes of the upheaval and conflict but it also examines one family as a microcosm of the effect the war had on everyday lives. But in this play more than that is relevant to us. Kipling lived and wrote in Sussex, celebrated our scenery and our customs and his house Bateman’s is still a memorial to him and his family including Jack.
I have been fortunate in being able to assemble a first rate cast and technical team for this play. Kipling is played by Peter Wellby, who will be remembered for his role in The Browning Version at Lewes and his wife, Carrie, is played by Jenny Lloyd Lyons, who won an award for best actor in the Brighton & Hove Arts Council’s Play Competition. Owen Daughtery, one of our Youth Theatre members plays Jack and he is supported by Lauren-Nicole Little as his sister Elsie. Robert Woodbridge whose last appearance at Lewes was in The Importance of Being Earnest is back for this play. The rest of the cast includes two new young members, James Meikel and Daniel Grimson. Roger Murray and Dominic Ramos appear in cameo roles.
This play is both exciting and moving – full of sound and fury, both domestic and military and it has great significance for all those who have lost loved ones in war and the dead heroes we yearly promise to remember.
Born in 1865 in Bombay, Rudyard Kipling and was one of England’s most popular writers during the 19th and 20th Century. In 1907 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Today he is still very much a part of the fabric of our culture even though his imperialist fervour and nationalism sometimes sits uncomfortably with our modern world view.
The play takes its name from the poem My Boy Jack, written in 1915, popularly believed to be about the loss of his son John. This is disputed by The Kipling Society who claim it is about ‘Jack Tar’ and the Naval losses in general. However no one denies that in writing this famous poem, Kipling drew on his own well of pain following the death of his 18 year old son in WW1 at the Battle of Loos.
Written by actor David Haig in 1997 and first performed at The Hampstead Theatre, My Boy Jack has been widely staged. A successful TV film with David Haig as Kipling, Daniel Radcliffe as his son John and Kim Cattrall as Carrie Kipling has followed. This excellent play, illustrating the torment of families seeing their sons going to the battle front, is based on the true life story of the Kipling family and begins on the brink of WW1.
In Mike Turner’s production Kipling, played by Peter Wellby, was compelling and entirely believable as this famous 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 to the battle front even though he had been deemed unfit due to his 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. John’s Mother Carrie and his Sister Elsie do not want him to be deployed to the front line. Elsie tells her father forcefully that she thinks it is wrong and that in fact John wants to enlist to get away from an oppressive home life. Jenny Lloyd-Lyons as Carrie brought an outward calm and uneasy endurance that was a perfect foil for the fervour of her husband, and Lauren-Nicole Little 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 front line 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. Well cast, they made an authentic and affecting picture of the ordinary soldier finding ways to survive horrific conditions.
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 (Daniel Grimston), one of John Kipling’s men we have seen in the trench scene. He is horribly shell shocked and in a beautifully written scene he recounts what happened to John Kipling when he was blown up. Daniel as Bowe, the central character in this scene, was moving and detailed and his commitment to keep the drama truthful was commendable. In a harrowing scene some sense of peaceful resolution was conveyed well by all the cast.
The play suggests that Kipling, the ultimate story teller, was entranced by the drama and heightened reality of war. That perhaps he summoned up the ultimate story of courage and glory by sending his son to war, thereby ensuring he had an intimate but, in reality, remote experience of the battle front. It was his son who suffered the horrors of war which Kipling spoke about in glorified terms and not he himself. The play ends with Kipling reciting his poem My Boy Jack which suggests that for Kipling his need to believe his son died a courageous, patriotic death, outweighed the sacrifice of a young man’s life.
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 WW1 trench. Both were very well executed by Dominic Ramos and his team. The quality of the costumes including various military uniforms was high.
The audience applauded after every scene and were clearly entirely convinced and involved. Mike Turner cast well and with care produced a confident and accomplished show.
|Rudyard Kipling||Peter Wellby|
|Carrie Kipling||Jenny Lloyd Lyons|
|John Kipling (Jack)||Owen Daughtery|
|Elsie Kipling (Bird)||Lauren-Nicole Little|
|Guardsman McHugh||James Merkle|
|Guardsman Bowe||Daniel Grimston|
|Guardsman Doyle||Robert Woodbridge|
|Col . Rory Pottle||Roger Murray|
|Major Sparks||Robert Woodbridge|
|A Soldier||Dominic Ramos|
|Assistant Director||Alison Grant|
|Stage Manager||Kirrily Long|
|Prompt and assistant to the director||Sue Tait|
|Set design||Dominic Ramos|
|Set Construction||Dudley Ward|
|Costumes||Anne Turner and the Wardrobe|
|Sound||Gareth Budden and Charlie Pope|
Includes sound effects from http://www.freesfx.co.uk