Don’t mention the war: Bomber’s Moon at the Park Theatre

Sunday  6th April 2014, matinée

William Ivory is known for following the old writers’ adage ‘write about what you know’, giving his work a real sense of depth and texture.  In the case of ‘Bomber’s Moon’, currently enjoying a well-deserved outing at the Park Theatre, this is clearly a subject which is close to his heart – his father was a Lancaster bomber pilot in the second world war, and Ivory has already touched on the subject in his TV movie ‘Night Flight’.

We can’t think of an actor better qualified than James Bolam to play grumpy old man Jimmy.  It’s a role he began honing his skills for in his twenties, judging by this early example from the Likely Lads, and the opportunity to see him doing it live was too good to miss.  In fact our enthusiasm was so great that we had to go twice – the first time the performance was cancelled due to water problems.

The plot doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs.  It centres around Jimmy, battling old age, illness and increasingly frequent flashbacks to his time as a rear gunner in the second world war.  Enter David, his carer, who soon reveals plenty of care needs of his own as the cheery and optimistic facade starts to slip.  Fortunately, this is more dark comedy than drama and is full of sharp, down to earth dialogue and mordant observations on growing old, dealing with death and coming to terms with loss.  Using faith as a central theme, the play asks the question, do we need faith or is love enough?  One way or another, the desire to find meaning, whether secular, religious or superstitious, seems inescapable, and raises the play above sit-com territory.

James Bolam more than delivers, making every line count with masterful timing, and giving the character an unpredictability which is highly entertaining, whether ranting about the trivialities of institutional life, using his advanced age to get away with being politically incorrect, or making light of his own contribution to the war.   Steven John Shepherd as carer David is the perfect foil, a sitting duck for Jimmy’s piercing analysis, but ultimately an unlikely source of insight and change.  He gives a perfectly nuanced performance, conveying the fragility and brittleness of a troubled soul and the desperate need to do some good for those around him as part of his own rehabilitation.  The chemistry between them brings warmth to a situation which might be rather grim and hopeless in different hands.

The set is well-used – the realism of Jimmy’s sheltered flat contrasts with the flashbacks, where clever lighting and the ceiling fan evoke night-time bombing raids with ease.

Overall, this is a play which brings fresh insights to a familiar scenario, and in a thoroughly entertaining and touching way.

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