'Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme'
Jonathan Gibbs

Pleasance London Fringe

'Answer me why we did it.' You could see Frank McGuinness's play sim-ply as a lesson for today's untested youth in what it means to put your life on the line for your country. But it's more than that. For the eight young protestants we meet, bundled together for training, then ending up frozen in a trench in Ypres, singing old hymns before battle, it's not the Hun that's the real enemy, but the Catholics back home. This - not the tragic waste of the war - is what makes this eloquent play so depressing. It's a message that comes through forcefully in James Phillips' pro-duction - itself part of a season on theatre and war.

This young director clearly has verve, and enioys creating dramatically lit tableaux on his bold, abstract set -a raked diamond suspended above the abyss. In the absence of top brass on stage, he drills his cast mercilessly, forcing them into some confident, rather jerky performances. At their centre is the fluid Nicholas Sidi as the dangerously exuber-ant Kenneth, with Jonjo O'Neill and Dominic McHale both exuding healthy menace as a pair of die-hard Orangemen. A solid showing, then, even if the more lyrical flights of McGuinness's writing -all that elegant Irish paradox! - too often falls flat.



- 2002 Time Out

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