Army @ The Fringe in Association with Summerhall   (V210)

August 13 to 25th (not 19th)

14.20 (Tues to Thurs) 15.40 (Fri to Sun)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)


This is a verbatim play about ordinary young men thrown into extraordinary situations. These were teenage recruits caught up in the events of D day and beyond. It brings to vivid life the devastating testimony of five Normandy veterans, and there is the opportunity to meet two of the veterans after each show. These were inexperienced young conscripts who found themselves part of one of the most dangerous operations of World War Two. A variety of memories unfold, some quite humorous, some harrowing.
The lads involved came from different parts of the country. There was Smudger Smith, from Leeds, Ken “Cookey” Cooke from Nottinghamshire, sixteen year old Merry Meredith from London’s East End, Hank from Sheffield, Bert from Bermondsey,  and the show is introduced and completed by Queenie, a Veteran’s wife in her eighties from Yorkshire. She reflects on life after the war, including consequences such a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The cast are uniformly impressive, telling their stories in turn, talking of their fears en route, of the problems of the actual landings, of seeing so many dead bodies in the water, and then of the struggle to advance. One memorable section involved being ordered to blow up enemy vehicles in a village to clear it when there was much danger of killing civilians. Late we learn that even when family members were killed, locals could later be grateful that the Nazis had been driven out.
The play’s title, “Bomb Happy,” does not, of course have anything to do with cheerfulness. Rather, it is the term the guys used when their experiences had their effect on the men’s mental state. Shell shock was the term used earlier, or a greater of lesser degree of nervous collapse. There are a number of descriptions of the men seeing their friends and comrades killed in front of them,  or of being burned alive in tanks, and more. This cannot be borne indefinitely.
We hear about some guys getting wounded and being glad to be sent home to recover, and the way they were greeted as heroes and treated.
The sets were very simple, and imaginatively used. Just boxes of various sizes that took many forms.
This is a brilliantly devised, excellently presented and very memorable show.