When Peter Ansell, director of the Poulner Players August production, chose My Boy Jack there was a remarkable correlation between the play and the venue at which it is performed. In My Boy Jack the action is mainly set during the 1914-18 War – the 100 year commemoration of the start of which has recently been observed – and St John’s Church, Poulner was built in September 1914. So any one of the young men from the area (more than 100 Ringwood servicemen perished in the Great War) could have, like Jack Kipling, gone to fight and die for King and country.
With a minimalist set and performing “in the round” it was a difficult task for Steve Russell as Rudyard Kipling to set the scene for this poignant play. He rose to the challenge admirably and was totally convincing as the successful writer who is patriotic to the point of obsession, bullying his only son to join the Army. The teenage Jack – what a sensitive portrayal by Max Silver – is short-sighted but after Father uses his influence joins up and becomes an officer. The scene when Jack appears in uniform and wearing glasses is a pivotal and moving one, revealing his deep-rooted concerns for the future as Carrie, his American mother, also fears for her beloved son’s safety. Julie Lax was most impressive, always in character and keeping the accent to perfection with youthful Emily Symonds as Jack’s sister Elsie making a promising debut. Tim Mabbett as Guardsman Bowe (extremely convincing when portraying the trauma of post-war shell shock) and Gideon Lax (Guardsman McHugh) also performed confidently in their first roles with the Players. Patrick Cairnes playing Guardsman Doyle capably made up the trio of young Irishmen who “go over the top” and that scene also captured the futility of war which was the theme throughout. A further thread interwoven into the story line was that the Kiplings were a family at war among themselves with Jack’s enlistment and subsequent death causing huge divisions and resentments. Each and every member of the cast played a part in portraying the complex emotions and anxieties revealed.
My Boy Jack presented logistical problems of scene changes in total darkness and some of the sound effects were somewhat erratic but Poulner Players worked very hard to bring this challenging and thought-provoking play to fruition. It runs until Friday and is well worth seeing. Front of house proceeds, matched by Barclays Funding Scheme, will be donated to the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal.