Friday, 26 September 2014


James Garnon as Harold Gillies in Dr Scroggy's War - Globe Theatre - photo Mark Douet
James Garnon as Harold Gillies in Dr Scroggy's War
photo Mark Douet
Dr Scroggy's War; Howard Brenton, director John Dove, music William Lyons; Globe Theatre
Reviewed by Guest reviewer Jill Barlow on Sep 17 2014
Star rating: 3.5

Dr Scroggy's War, world premiere music theatre review

William Lyons’ incidental music, complete with three piece band in khaki uniform ,and themes from Popular Songs of WW1, helps to underscore the pure futility of war, in the world premiere of this enigmatic play by Howard Brenton, set in a military rehabilitation hospital in Sidcup pioneering the new advances in plastic surgery by Dr Gillies (alias the fictional Dr Scroggy) in 1915, following the catastrophic carnage of The Battle of Loos of that year. Dr Scroggy's War opened at the Globe Theatre on 17 September 2014

'We don't do 'glum' here' pronounces pioneering plastic surgeon Dr Harold Gillies, when coming up against the despondency of his World War One casualties, during the long process of his striving to patch up their faces damaged at the Front, at the disastrously badly planned Battle of Loos 1915, using new 'reconstruction' techniques, at the Queens Hospital, Sidcup. What is more disguised as his 'alter ego' Dr Scroggy, complete with tartan. kilt, and supplies of the occasional wee dram of 'the real stuff', to lift their spirits in more ways than one, Gillies makes fleeting nightly visits to the wards, dodging the wary eye of the ever vigilant austere, starched uniformed young nurses.

James Garnon as Harold Gillies and Will Featherstone as Jack Twigg in Dr Scroggy's War - Globe Theatre - photo Mark Douet
James Garnon as Harold Gillies &
Will Featherstone as Jack Twigg
photo Mark Douet
A testimony to the ever futility of war, and the sheer heroism of our men at the Front, this play is well timed to coincide with 2014 marking as it does, the centenary of the outbreak of WW1. Though giving us a more limited reaction than the likes of Joan Littlewood's 'Oh What Lovely War' with its full blown bluster, and cruel mock irony, Brenton's play nevertheless presents an apt cameo image of the frustrations, hopes and fears, of the casualty ward back home, and the way that the occasional touch of ironic humour helped our wounded troops along the way to partial rehabilitation if they were lucky enough to find themselves under the enlightened, pioneer surgeon, Dr Gillies.

I have followed the use of modern new music scores at Shakespeare's Globe, since 2000, reviewing for various publications including annually for the academic journal Tempo (CUP). William Lyons has a long association with the Globe, as composer, Musical Director, and Historical Music Adviser, and often writes for period instruments from the baroque era in Shakespeare's plays at the Globe always with clarity and aplomb. But here for 'Dr Scroggy' his versatility has come up with an exclusively 20th century WW1 approach. In reponse to my request he kindly sent me the following notes to explain :-

'Howard Brenton's play Dr Scroggy' War, is set in the First World War . In creating the score for the play I considered various approaches:the provision of period songs and dances mentioned in the text of the play; the sound and impact of artillery barrages, explosions and gunfire;and thematic melodic motifs that would punctuate and underscore the unfolding drama --- The soldiers in the play sing popular songs. 'Goodbye Dolly Grey', the Rugby Song, and' Broken Doll', were all well known by serving men'

Composer Wiliam Lyons also mentions inspiration for his motifs coming from: 'the patriotic and descriptive style of early twentieth century English music as displayed in the work of Elgar, and Vaughan- Williams, the music of hymns from the late nineteenth century and the timelessness of English folk tunes'.

This worked well, with what the drama critics tended to term: 'the three piece band in khaki uniform', above the stage in the Musician's Gallery, comprising piano, trumpet and cello, but with added percussion and sound effects to denote the sound and impact of artillery barrages where appropriate as the drama unfolds. As with Lyons' baroque scores for Shakespearean plays at the Globe this was all carefully crafted but for the most part characteristically a little restrained at times. However we did have in Act Two as Michael Coveney for 'What's on Stage' (18th Sep 2014) described it - 'the highlight of Act two is a cabaret turn by bandaged victims in drag performing 'Baby Doll' for Queen Mary', (who was touring the wards as part of her war effort).'   'Broken Doll' to be more exact I seem to recall, ('I left my nose in France, I'm one of England's broken dolls'). Also one could sense the use of hymns and motifs in the melodies from the musician's gallery in this scene.

The play's main hero, the badly injured Jack Twigg (Will Featherstone), who has made his way up the ranks from a working class background, portrays well the tedium of life stuck recovering on the ward, and the play centres around a series of scenes as he gradually comes to terms with it all. Field Marshall Sir John French (Paul Rider) cuts a strong figure as the Commander whose decisions led to such disastrous carnage and slaughter at the battle of Loos (1915)and features early in the play. However the series of cameo scenes, effective as they were, left one asking for more. A play needs to be more than the sum of its parts and hopefully Dr Scroggy's War will gather increased momentum dramatically (and musically too) as its run (till oct 10th) proceeds.

One last thing to note- what did Twigg long for most after they'd patched him up in Sidcup-
Back to Mum? No! He passionately just couldn't wait to get 'back to the War front' to do his duty for King and Country. Therein lies the true irony of war and our gallant heroes.
Reviewed by Jill Barlow
Copyright Jill Barlow, 2014

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