My Boy Jack
11th - 14th November 2015
The year is 1913 and war with Germany is imminent. Rudyard Kipling’s determination to send his son to war triggers a bitter family conflict which leaves Britain’s renowned patriot torn between his own greatest passions: his love for his children and his devotion to King and Country. David Haig’s acclaimed play was filmed for television in 2007, with Daniel Radcliffe as Jack, Kim Cattrall as his mother, Caroline, and David Haig himself as Kipling. My Boy Jack is a powerful and moving account of anguish at the heart of a man, single-minded in his belief of the virtue of a righteous, glorious and just war.
Review from our NW NODA (National Operatic and Dramatic Association) representative.
George Orwell called him a Prophet of British Imperialism, but his patriotism and nationalistic fervour played out in his relationship with his son was to bring great tragedy into his life. Kipling was determined to see his son in some militaristic role and connived to bring this about through his contacts. He was a friend of Lord Roberts, one of the country's greatest soldiers and the colonel of the Irish Guards. Despite his failing medicals for the Navy and the Army due to very poor eyesight he was to his delight commissioned in the Irish Guards and soon found himself in the front line at Loos. Did Kipling ever regret his actions? What we do know is the carnage at Loos on the Western Front in September 1915 plunged him into inner darkness. His only son John, for whom he had written his best loved peom 'If', had been killed in the action just six weeks after his 18th birthday.
He was last seen on the second day of the ill-fated attack, stumbling blindly through the mud, screaming in agony after an exploding shell had ripped his face apart; the failure to find John's remains fuelled the author's obsession that his son had survived. But it was not to be. Kipling eventually came to accept John's fate. And despite a grief-stricken crusade to find them, the remains of his 'dear old boy' were not officially 'discovered' until 1992. Yet there are those who believe that the body interned in a grave bearing his name at plot seven, row D of St Mary's Advanced Dressing Station Cemetery, near Loos, are not those of the author's son. John's death rocked his father's belief in the British miliary elite, but it did nothing to dent Kipling's deep and passionate patriotism.
My Boy Jack is without doubt a very moving and in many ways disturbing insight into Kipling's relationship with his family. A Nobel Prize winner, the country's most famous writer with powerful family connections; his mother's sister Georgiana was married to painter Edward Burne-Jones, and her sister Agnes was married to painter Edward Poynter. Kipling's most famous relative was his first cousin, Stanley Baldwin, who was Conservative Prime Minister of the UK three times in the 1920s and 1930s. Naturally he was treated with deference by most people especially when he wished to impose his wishes and ideas on people.
So what did Neston Players make of this dramatic reconstruction? A great deal indeed. Director Paul Kirkbright took full advantage of a much talented cast to bring out the sheer awfulness of the unfolding tragedy upon a family. In this he was aided by Assistant Directors Stuart Rathe and Martin Riley. Having see several Neston Players productions the expertise shown by the stage crew is always excellent and Stage Manager/Producer Simon Deere and his entire team did not disappoint us on this occasion.
What of the players themselves? BenMcConaghy brought Kipling to life so vividly that I am sure he provoked anger within his audience. Superb performance. Tia Gill was very effective as his American wife Carrie and I am sure her life with him must have been a trial at times. Our eponymous hero, and in effect he was a sort of hero, gave George Jones a chance to prove he could evolve from boyhood to manhood as the action progressed; no mean feat for a 16 year old. Daisy Walsh as Jack's sister successfully caught the character more able to stand up to her father than her brother and despite her reaction to some of his ideas showed when he was giving her away in marriage that she understood the sadness which had so invaded his life. With so much to admire it was the total concentration the players brought to their roles which was so impressive. Watching their faces reflecting their emotions was a triumph in itself.
Martin Riley as Sparks and John Lees made the most of their one scene when Jack is medically examined. Obviously influenced by Kipling's fame and reputation the reluctance to fail Jack they demonstrate in their performance was extremely well done.
Greg Jones, Andrew Culshaw and Rob Poston, comrades in arms, were so right as the common soldiers of Jack's platoon and acted as you would expect them to when exposed to trench warfare. When Kipling was vainly searching for some information about the death of his son one of them 'Bowe', played by Greg Jones gave a wonderful interpretation of a shell shocked soldier utterly believable. He is introduced to Kipling by a friend/minder which was very cleverly played by David Bolitho; not a big part but important in the context of the scene.
Although I was not sure how it actually fitted into the overall story the author brought two children Grace Prytherch and George Culshaw as Elsie and Jack into the action and they performed very well in the scene with their father.
First class entertainment as always from Neston. Long may they reign.