Scouts in Bondage

Every sketch show has scenarios which, while amusing in moderate amounts, outstay their welcome. Imagine such a sketch stretched out to the best part of two hours and you have Scouts in Bondage.

Glenn Chandler’s comedy, a sequel to last year’s Boys of the Empire, sees a troop of 1930s Boy Scouts crash land in Afghanistan while on their way to a jamboree. They end up caught in a plot between British intelligence and the local warring factions in one of several satirical swipes at 21st century attitudes to Britain’s involvement in the region.

Narration is provided by Mark Farrelly as the editor of Scout Magazine, whose increasingly anarchic performance is the highlight of the evening. The scouts, though, work on a more one-note level which, although it pastiches the Boys’ Own stylings of the era, quickly begins to grate and actively works against any attempt to portray anything deeper.

On several occasions, the production seems unable to find the line between lampooning the casual racism of the age and just joining in. And while there are good laughs to be had throughout, the overall impression is of a production that got too carried away with the title’s double entendre to tighten up the script as much as needed.

King’s Head, Islington
November 12-January 10, 2010
Author: Glenn Chandler
Director: Terence Barton
Producer: Boys of the Empire Productions
Cast: Brage Bang, Christopher Birks, Mark Farrelly, Christopher Finn, Alastair Mavor, Timothy Welling
Running time: 1hr 50mins

* Reviewed for [The Stage](http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/26254/scouts-in-bondage)

What’s Wrong With Angry?

When does a drama that’s written about contemporary issues stop being about now, and start to be nostalgic? And once it’s nostalgic, how long until we become so detached that it becomes a historical piece that can talk to us about how we live today?

The answers to both questions are, of course, somewhat fluid, but they do give some indication of the two stools between which _What’s Wrong With Angry?_, the 1993 play which is currently being revived at the King’s Head in Islington, falls.

Patrick Wilde’s script revolves around two very different sixteen-year-old boys who both attend the same single-sex Catholic school. Steven Carter is fey, bullied and out to his best friend, Linda; John Westhead is the cocksure, laddish head boy who dates girls, but sneaks off for encounters with men and doesn’t really know where either head or heart is at.

So far, so familiar, if not even hackneyed. Although if you’re thinking the setup is remarkably similar to feature film _Get Real_, there’s a reason — the movie was based upon the play. And to be honest, if you’re going to spend an evening in the company of a script by Patrick Wilde, I’d choose the film over the theatre version.

Part of the problem is that there is too strong a desire to preserve the theatrical piece in aspic. When a director revives a production that he both wrote and directed on its original run, as in this case, it seems that fidelity to that production takes precedence over speaking to a present-day audience.

There are good points within the production: notably, the central performances from Oliver Jack and Christopher Birks and one or two of the supporting actors. However, Charlie Deans has been badly let down by being miscast as Linda. Steven’s best friend is described throughout as being fat, but Deans is bordering on petite. As if to compensate, Deans plays the role much larger than the tiny King’s Head can accommodate, often neutralising the realistic portrayals that Jack and Birks provide.

In addition, Nic Gilder as gay schoolteacher Simon, who cannot help Steven for fear of falling foul of Section 28, is the weakest element of the whole play. Not once does he connect with the script he’s given. We end up not with a portrayal of a man in torment, but a recitation of lines with no heart and no emotion.

After _Fucking Men_ and _Naked Boys Singing_, it appears that the King’s Head is trying to stake a claim as a venue for gay theatre. I haven’t seen either of those productions, but can only hope they are better than _What’s Wrong With Angry?_. And if it wants to enhance its reputation, its next gay production will be vital.