My Boy Jack - by David Haig
25th, 26th and 27th October 2012

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Cast        Production Team
Rudyard Kipling Iain Howland   Director Jean Cooper
Carrie Kipling Cathy Naylor   Production Assistant Frances Dodd
Elsie "Bird" Kipling Camilla Steel   Stage Manager Lynn Marsh
John "Jack" Kipling Ashley Flexen   Assistant Stage Manager Sophie Robertson
Major Sparks John Haylett   Properties Wendy Butler
Colonel Pottle Jon Gilbert   Assistant Properties Richard Foster
Guardsman Bowe Dan Cooper   Continuity Gemma Garside
Guardsman McHugh Dean Bartholomew   Costume Christine Eckley
Guardsman Doyle Peter Galloway   Set Design & Construction Garry Cooper
Mr Frankland Tom Donoghue   Lighting Design & Operation Techni-Crew
      Sound Design Jean Cooper
      Programme Design Howard Platt
      Production Photos Howard Platt

Click here for the NODA crit for this play


Firstly thank you very much for taking a chance on a newbie critic. My first formal review and aptly for this play, having to give it face to face, it does feel a bit like going ‘over the top’. I am hoping I don’t get shot to pieces and I guess that for you when receiving the review the feeling is mutual!

Secondly I would like to comment on the theatre. There is a lovely warm welcoming buzz about the place. I arrived a bit late for a drink in the bar (which certainly enhances the theatre experience). The seating layout gave room to move and my view was good. From what I could see there were no sight line problems unless you had a person 6 foot plus right in front of you or someone with a big hairdo, which thankfully I didn’t.

The programme is of a high quality with plenty to read in it. My only criticism is that the beautiful poem ‘Has anyone seen my son Jack?’ delivered superbly by Iain at the end of the play was nowhere to be seen. ‘If’ is a great poem but it didn’t seem anywhere near as relevant.

As for the play itself I liked it but I think it is a bit too long. In the TV film version the later years were cut and I understand why they did this as I would have cut the wedding dress scene and perhaps revamped the last scene. The link into the poem was weak in my opinion.  Maybe some of Kipling’s other monologues could have been trimmed as well. The memory scene also added nothing to my enjoyment of such a moving story.

Can I say at the outset that without exception the overall standard of the play was excellent and any individual criticisms should be seen in that light.



Not a straight forward play to direct but really well handled by Jean and I understand there were new members to be bedded in by her but you would never have known it. There was hardly a line or word dropped (it appeared) and the scenes moved along at a good pace. I was watching the actors when they weren’t speaking and nobody lost concentration. Jean is obviously a hard taskmaster. I did feel there was a slight tendency to overplay to the front especially as the sound from the stage is excellent and everyone was very clear so perhaps some of the blocking could have put the action more side on and possibly some lines occasionally delivered up stage.

At the end of the first half the soldiers go over the top. The timing was not quite right as the roars of the soldiers were good but the movement didn’t coincide so it felt a bit flat. Perhaps

The set. The main room was quite plain and I would like it to have been a bit fancier as the Kiplings were quite wealthy. Maybe some wood panelling instead of the flat brown paint. The design though was very clever in the way that the walls folded in to become the trench wall. The scene changes were handled efficiently but sometimes lights were left on and at other times not when props etc were moved. In this case the darker the better would have helped. I think the top of the scenery should have had a black curtain dropped down on it as the bar at the back was distracting. Likewise the side curtains could have been brought in a bit. The office scene felt crammed to the front of the stage which it obviously was. I realise there is limited space. Could a curtain have been dropped in between that and the Batemans room?

Lighting. The main room lighting worked well with the changes in scenes. A couple of times Kipling and Jack were in a spotlight. Would it have been possible for this to have been more defined with perhaps a front spot? The lighting in the battle scene was good in that it was atmospheric but maybe some flashes would have helped when bombs exploded.

Sound. A nice selection of music throughout and the last piece of music beautifully framed the march on of the soldiers and the curtain call. I had a tear in my eye.

The crowd applause after Kipling’s call to arms speech sounded strange. Very hard to explain but it needed a crisper recording of applause.

Most importantly the sound levels in the battle scene were spot on in that they were loud enough to scare the soldiers but not so loud that they drowned out the dialogue. I have read reviews of other performances of the play, including Haig’s version, and this was a problem I noted in reviews of other performances which was neatly avoided.

Costumes and Props. The costumes all looked very good. However I am sure Christine wouldn’t have minded if the uniforms had been muddied for the battle scene. They looked much too clean as did the trench walls. I didn’t get the full feeling of the muddy hell of the trenches.

From my untrained eye the props all seemed of the period. Reduced to being pernickety it is amazing what you spot when you have to review a play. Bird asks Kipling if he knows the time and he ignores his watch. Also there was no rum actually poured in the trench scene.

The ladies hair was in period but perhaps Bird’s hair could have been changed for the wedding dress scene. It looked odd sticking out on one side under the skull cap headdress.

The men’s haircuts were good. Again being pernickety but was Jack’s moustache on straight? It seemed to be on at a slightly jaunty angle.


Kipling – Iain Howland
I haven’t seen Iain act before but I guess he has been doing this for a year or two. It really was a terrific performance which was very believable as he cajoled, bullied, ranted and raved yet I never felt he was going over the top. The final poem was delivered in the heartfelt manner, and with the nuances, it deserved and showed the soft edge of a driven man.

Carrie – Cathy
I really liked the way Cathy played the role with calmness and coolness and restraint in her feelings, which is explained in Wikipedia as that after Bird’s birth ‘
their marital relationship was no longer light-hearted and spontaneous’, which was a perfect counterpoint to Iain’s fiery role. You really could see the change in her years later when attending to her daughter’s wedding dress as she showed the warm side of the character. Carrie was an American and although the accent came through it could have been a bit stronger I felt and when Carrie had heated exchanges it did tend to disappear.  

Bird – Camilla
This was a very good and dominating performance. You felt the strength inherited from her father as she fearlessly criticised him but you also felt her warmth for Jack in the smoking scene.

Jack – Ashley
Ashley started a bit stiltedly and tended to make his moves a bit falsely but he gradually settled and his movement really improved as the play progressed.  Also it was not obvious at the start that he had such bad eye problems. Never act with children or animals they say and in this case pince nez, but I have to say Ashley dealt superbly with them. In the battle scene you really believed he was a young lad thrown into something he found hard to deal with but had no choice, especially with the insubordinate soldiers.

Major Sparks and Colonel Pottle – John and Jon
The scene started a bit slowly and I felt both were slightly underpowered. However when the Kiplings arrived they were more animated. John’s inspection of Jack was well timed and his matter of fact-ness especially with the ‘cough’ made everyone laugh. Jon stood up well to Kipling in their banter and you believed in his interest in cars. I don’t think the narrow acting space helped though as the actors couldn’t move very far.

Guardsman Bowe – Dan
Dan played the part with great verve and his shellshock scene was very moving and believable. He produced a good range of emotions and his character never wavered and you believed that his original chirpy character had fallen apart. My only criticism was the accent which again drifted as the anger grew. If you asked most of the audience I wonder if they would have noticed as when the accent was strong it emphasised his roots very well.

Guardsmen McHugh and Doyle –Dean and Peter
Together with Dan they worked very well in the battle scene and managed to create strong individual characters from the relatively short time they had on stage. Once again a small criticism was that their accents as with Dan emphasised their Irish roots but again tended to drift in the heat of battle. You may have noticed I have a thing about accents!! In addition they could have been a bit more physical in their fight, for example a comment is made “don’t scratch my face” and it is clear this hasn’t happened.

Mr Frankland - Tom
I would rather be on for the whole play than have to wait till well into the second half to make an entrance and then be fully focussed. Tom succeeded admirably in that he established his character immediately. I really liked his performance. He impressed me as he was a perfect foil to Dan, in that he was calm and collected with Bowe and you really believed his concern for his friend.

Finally, it was a pleasure to see the performance, although with my reviewer’s hat on it made it difficult to watch and fully enjoy as I was trying to analyse all that was happening. I hope you find that my comments are constructive as you requested. Once again, thank you for inviting me.