The Conquering Hero
Last year’s rare revival of Allan Monkhouse’s ‘Mary Broome’ was a success for the Orange Tree. But this staging of the writer’s state-of-the-nation play from the early ’20s fails to shake off the dust of the archive.
The large-scale recruitment demanded by World War I divided British society at a deeply personal level. Patriotism collided with individual beliefs, and ‘conchies’ who refused to fight were widely condemned.
Monkhouse’s use of a wealthy household as a vehicle to play out the tensions of this situation produces some interesting moments – particularly the older generation’s jubilance when war is announced. But the play is hindered by an overwrought tone.
The second half’s relocation to France broadens the picture. And Simon Harrison is affecting as dilettante son and writer Christopher, destroyed by his experience of the war he joins after initially opposing it. Ultimately, though, the heavy-handedness of the play’s rehearsal of arguments about conscience weighs it down. By prioritising standpoints over believable relationships, it doesn’t stir us when it needs to.
First published by Time Out