King and Country Reviews
FOR KING AND COUNTRY. NESTON PLAYERS 9/11/1
Private Hamp our ”hero” is a nonentity, a creature whose undistinguished simplicity borders on simple-mindedness. The primitive machinery of war has plucked him from the grime of a Lancashire mill town and flung him down into the bloodsoaked mud of Loos, Arras, the Somme and finally Passchendale. All this so that he may enjoy the privilege of meeting an ignominious death in the service of his native land. One day Hamp after nearly drowning in a shell hole walks away from battle, so now the Army finds itself compelled to notice his existence. He is court-martialled for desertion in the face of the enemy. The guards, the lieutenant who acts as his defending counsel, the padre all try to make him realize that the court could insist on the maximum penalty. Obtusely, Hamp has utter faith in his counsel's power of words and in the fact that everybody is really too busy with the war to trouble about his “insignificant” crime. But it is decreed - there is "a danger of rot setting in". Hamp is rendered insensible with rum and morphia and carried out, strapped to a chair, to meet a death as unceremonious as the Army can make it.
And there you have it or do you.?.. What of the psychological pressures which affect all the characters who exist in this small corner of a foreign field .What sentence shall we pass on the defending officer Captain Hargreaves excellently portrayed by Adam Stubbs or similarly on Captain Webb (Charles Riley) Hamp’s Company Commander. As the play unfolds it is they who show the seeds of guilt. It is in the changes in their demeanour from irritation in one and agressiveness in the other that we see their attitude change as they face the inevitability of the outcome.
Compare them to the prosecuting council, almost smug in his righteousness, determined that Hamp should pay the ultimate penalty. What presssure is he under; the need to show his superiors his total support for their belief that “the rot must be stopped”. Thoughts of promotion if he can ensure the only result which will really satisfy his superiors. Richard Dodd as Captain Midgeley prosecuting brought all this to life and at times one could feel the audience were in a way incensed by his characterisation.
Martin Riley (Captain O’Sullivan Medical Officer) no time for “skivers give em a pill and send ‘em back”. All this shell shock business, rubbish”. The totality of his predudicial evidence would have been enough to carry a conviction. Was there an element of class here?; people like Hamp all the same?. A fine performance this.
What of the officers of the President of the court, the Brigadier (Dave Bolitho) his associate members (Gordon Wallis, Andy Irvine and Mark Jones) the latter to oversee the correctness of the legal proceedings. All looking and behaving exactly as their characters demanded.
The padre, faced with a situation which in all conscience he could never have agreed with resorted to a comforting role and was very well played by by Michael Kennedy.
James Dormann and Charlie Cummings (Charlotte Rose) played the Guards and carried off their sympathy for the prisoner and attention to duty very well.
It was up to Daniel Short to bring the accused Arthur Hamp to life and he was magnificent in his portayal; a real tour de force. Expressions,voice, body language so totally right for this character. You could not help but be moved by this performance. Surrounded by such a formidable cast he nevertheless created a spendid niche for himself.
Martin Riley’s Direction was first class, capturing the stark action and characters who inhabited the play. Having seen Martin in other guises many times I was not surprised.
The set was simple but right as was the costuming .
I should also, mention Elaine Simcock who played a Belgian Farmers wife; apart from one little cameo action with the young guard which was very good her prime function was I am told to move some of the scenery dressed in character. This lady and others executed these scene changes with a minimum of fuss and so to them and all who worked back stage well done.