Review: Yesterday's Tomorrow at London's Drayton Arms Theatre
War is hell. But what if you’re fighting homophobia as well as the enemy?
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This new play by Gene David Kirk examines the impact of a same-sex relationship between two British soldiers on a peacekeeping tour of duty in the Middle East. Ian and John conceal their love from the rest of their regiment, whilst simultaneously planning a future together away from the armed forces. Will they survive ‘friendly-fire’ and live to see a future out of combats?
As well as the central story of army amour, the piece also tackles post-traumatic stress disorder, military relations with indigenous peoples, murder, prostitution, and morality. It’s a lot to squeeze into a single act of seventy minutes, but the script just about carries it off - earning its stripes by soldiering on from scene to scene with a swiftness that camouflages cumbrous thematic ambition.
The cast mostly convince as military men, though on close inspection one or two of them don’t seem to have undergone basic training - occasionally tending towards ‘army camp’…! Ben Carpenter and Matthew Schmolle are individually impressive as lovers Ian and John, but we aren’t completely convinced by their curious coupling, which lacks tender moments and never quite sparks as much as it should. That said, Schmolle’s delivery of John’s love letter to Ian is excellently executed, and Carpenter’s reactions to the manifold horrors of combat are moving manoeuvres. The script is superb at painting the bigger picture with vivid strokes, but sometimes stumbles when sketching smaller character communications.
Nicholas Waters is perfect as the boorish and blokey Simon, regaling younger comrades with unlikely tales of sexual conquest. Lewis Griffith is eminently watchable as the local waiter, and Provence Maydew makes the most of the thankless part of ‘Woman’. Catching our eye was River Hawkins as Paul, the cute recruit – fresh faced and full of an appetite for war that has yet to be diffused. Hawkins’ handsome boyish features certainly had us standing to attention. We wouldn’t mind seeing his ‘Privates on Parade’. He can unload his weapon at us. (We’re so sorry…)
An uneven production, but perhaps that’s apt. Anything dealing with the tragic complexity of combat probably should be a little rough around the edges. Plenty of memorable moments, and a strong, emotional ending, ultimately make this stark saga of love and war a victory to be proud of.
Yesterday’s Tomorrow runs at the Drayton Arms Theatre until 31 Mayt. For more information visit thedraytonarmstheatre.co.uk.
Words Richard Unwin