Review: Bully Boy by Sandi Toksvig at Colchester Mercury until Saturday November 21

Andrew French in Bully Boy by Sandi Toksvig at Colchester Mercury

Andrew French in Bully Boy by Sandi Toksvig at Colchester Mercury - Credit: Archant

This is a one-act two-hander play that sort of sprang out the research Sandi Toksvig did for her new book, Valentine Grey, which tells of an adventurous young woman who dressed as a man, joined the army and fought in the Boer War.

Josh Collins and Andrew French in Bully Boy by Sandi Toksvig at Colchester Mercury

Josh Collins and Andrew French in Bully Boy by Sandi Toksvig at Colchester Mercury - Credit: Archant

Bully Boy is quite a different kind of military story however, something the author has come to feel about very strongly. She’s a pacifist and her message is as clear as a gunshot on a quiet country morning, with her finger pointed incisively at the people of power who constantly send young men into battle without a care for the human consequences.

But this is no namby-pamby treatise on the evils of war. It’s a gusty tale full of soldierly language that takes a balanced look at what happens to the minds as well as the bodies of men who come face to face with the blood-soaked horrors of the battlefield. It is moving but also spiced with quite a lot of humour.

The dramatic story, with plenty of movement, is told in the Mercury’s newly-refurbished roomy studio. It introduces us to Eddie, a foot-soldier in Afghanistan, not yet 21, hounded by bullets and bombs and forever, as he puts it, surrounded by dead and dismembered bodies. He’s failed at pretty well everything else but found a life in the army. His love and his loyalty is to his fighting mates, the bully boys.

Then this major comes into his life asking questions about a patrol under fire where an eight-year-old local boy was allegedly purposely thrown into a well and drowned. Who did it and why? But before the major can quiz the whole team, all are killed by another roadside bomb, leaving just Eddie to face the music and a possible murder charge.


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Eddie is strongly played by Josh Collins, shattered by the loss of his mates, stressed to the limit, troubled and puzzled that anybody should worry about a little “raghead” boy who was probably helping the enemy anyway. He is matched by Andrew French’s major, a Falklands veteran in a wheelchair with his own cross to bear.

Major Oscar and Private Eddie have one thing in common: the army in wartime and Toksvig uses this cleverly to bring about a change in the relationship between the two that they are neither of them aware is happening.

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David Henshall.

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