When the Director Philip Wilson came out on stage before the show to say that the mechanics were playing up, my heart sank. Pointing out possible issues and highlighting the technical hitches unfairly distracts the audience away from the story. From the onset all I could concentrate on was watching the Revolve, counting the number of times the Stage Manager had to push it manually, and feel sorry for the actors. At times they were out of the light, distracted by the set and having to insert pauses while waiting for the Revolve to put them in the correct place.
His illicit forays out to meet his only friend, the village boy Jerry Crowe, played by the ever watchable Ryan McParland, are filled with simplicity and laughter. They have in common their love of horses and the swans of the Big House. Their differences are noted; Jerry does not ride like a gentleman, he hasn't read the classics, he has difficulty with his homework. But none of these matter. Jerry is warm and funny, and despite not knowing the 'proper' way to do things, he is surrounded by a loving family and friends, and a knowledge of politics and current affairs.
The second half of the play takes place in the trenches. While the use of the Revolve makes more sense in this half, it still does not add enough to the play to merit reliance on it. I was disappointed by the set which looked cheap and thought that smoke and lighting could have been used to much better effect. The fact that the boys were at the Front, while obvious in the script, was not mirrored by the atmosphere created.
The differences in their upbringing are clear from the letters each of them receive from home and their reactions to them. While Jerry sets off on a labour of love for his mother, Alec sets off on a labour of love for Jerry and as the story plays out, we are reminded that this is not a complex story of war, but a simple one of courage and friendship.
How Many Miles to Babylon? at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast runs until 24 May. For more information and tickets click here
Image credits: Steffan Hill