There are countless stories about war. Some stories are about the effects war has on a country or on history. Others are more personal, about say how one man survived the worst time of his life. Then there are some that focus on the relationships between people that form when they’re under the constant duress that war brings. You know, likeM*A*S*H.
Relationships of all kinds are the heart of PICT’s production of Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme. The story focuses on eight Irish soldiers who volunteered to fight in World War I. Each man is different in personality, background, and opinion. While initially there is some clashing amongst them, we watch as over time they begin to bond and form a sort of family unit.
One could talk about all the social and political backgrounds that each character represents in the play, or about how World War I was being commented on by the script. But I’ll be honest: I’ve been sick for the last week, and my war knowledge has never been particularly strong in the first place. But I love a character-driven story, so I’ll just take the play at face value and discuss these characters.
There are four scenes of the play: an introduction monologue by Kenneth Pyper (Martin Giles), the scene where the soldiers meet each other, a scene that is actually four scenes focusing on the pairings of the men, and the morning of their final battle. The opening scene of act 2 was my favorite, as it gave the characters intimate time and let the audience see them developing. When they reunited for the group scene at the end we saw how these characters have changed, but are still the men we met at the beginning.
Each couple shows a different kind of relationship you find, not just among soldiers, but among men. The comedic relationship between Millen (Ciaran Byrne) and Moore (Byron Anthony) is reminiscent of a married couple who get into squabbles but clearly care for each other. The relationship between Pyper (Raife Baker) and Craig (Jason McCune) starts as friendly but builds into a literal romance that is doomed not to last. Anderson and McIlwaine (Jonathan Visser and Tony Bingham) are introduced as the aggressive bullying types, but their scene together shows a more human side and a brotherly relationship between the two.
All the relationships face challenges: some of the men lose their will and suffer some mental breakdowns. The religious Roulston (Justin R. G. Holcolmb) has his faith severely shaken, and his unlikely friendship with the young Crawford (Dylan Marquis Meyers) is strained to the max as the young man tries to instill confidence in his friend. All of the actors do incredible work in these scenes, not letting a sad or somber moment go by unnoticed.
A lot is happening in Observe the Sons of blah blah blah blah blah(seriously, it’s a relevant title but I hope you don’t have to pay by the letter for posters.) PICT has mounted a very well done production that I would recommend you checking out. It’s a wonderful show with eight fully-formed characters trying to survive in the ugliest of situations. Go see it.
Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme
Presented by PICT Classic Theatre
Directed by Matt Torney
Written by Frank mcGuinness
Designed by Johnmichael Bonach (sets), Joan Market (costumes), Cindy Limauro (lighting), Angela Baughman (sound)
Starring Byron Anthony (William Moore), Raife Baker (Young Kenneth Pyper), Tony Bignham (Nat McIlwaine), Ciaran Byrne (John Millen), Martin Giles (Old Kenneth Pyper), Justin R. G. Holcomb (Christopher Roulston), Dylan Marquis Meyers (Martin Crawford), Jason McCune (Thomas Hanlon), Jonathan Visser (George Anderson).
Show runs until the 20th. Tickets can be purchased here.
Special thanks to PICT for two complimentary press tickets.
Performance Date: September 12, 2014