“To die would be an awfully big adventure”.
Strange to be quoting Peter Pan at the start of a review of another play about a soldier in World War 1. But in Paul Nolan’s very personal, meticulously researched, portrayal of his own great-uncle’s desire to sign up, serve and “do his duty”, James O’Neil actually utters this line out loud. And in the context of seeing an energetic, vital young man take on this responsibility, the quotation makes perfect, grotesque, sense.
In Rory Nolan’s vibrant and visceral performance he perfectly encapsulates the boy in the young man at the start of the story, growing into the soldier, but never the hero. This war is real, and both writer and actor demonstrate, through word and gesture alone, both the camaraderie, but also the horror and, maybe most surprisingly, the boredom of war.
Corinne Emerson, as older sister Ivy, shows us family life in Coventry before 1914, and we get snippets of life back home while the boys were away. This was a real family, emphasized by projected pictures of the O’Neil family.
There are no special effects here. No charges across no-man’s land, no dismembered bodies to jar our view. Nolan and his two actors let the words tell this very personal story. Personal to them, as Coventry people, telling a local story. But that makes it all the more universal for all of us.
And, no, this is certainly not just “another play about World War 1”. It’s far more intimate, and the lack of spectacle forces you to concentrate on the individual story being told.
The Window will return to The Albany in November to mark the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day. It will be a fitting tribute to both one man, and all the young men who did their duty.
The Window runs at The Albany Theatre until Saturday 17th March.
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