Alexandra Palace Theatre – 5 June 2019
Reviewed by Catherine Françoise
Having first seen this superb actor in this extraordinary one man play at Edinburgh last summer I was thrilled to be invited to review it at this wonderful new / old north London theatre as part of its 2019 UK tour journey back to Edinburgh again this summer. Having sold out at Edinburgh last summer it is being performed in larger space at the Pleasance this year with double audience capacity. Book your tickets before you go – David William Bryan playing his Great Uncle Arthur (Joe) In Loyal Company is a Must-See. One of the best things I’ve had the privilege of seeing in recent years on any level.
Watching it in the amazing old Alexandra Palace Theatre, recently reopened to the public again for the first time in over 80 years, was a added treat. It’s so evocative ~ you can sense all the (wonderful!) ghosts and theatrical stories in the lofty walls! Looking forward to seeing more here for sure!
But more importantly, back to the outstanding actor/writer David William Bryan in a tour de force solo performance recreating the incredible true story of his Great Uncle Arthur (known as Joe) who went missing in World War II where he was a prisoner of War in the Far East before returning home to Birkenhead, somewhat broken and sick after the war.
Bryan plays every character in his Great Uncle’s story including every member of his family: his mum, dad, Bill (one of his 6 brothers), his best friend Frank, his unattainable perfect gal Mary, his 3 army pals, commanding officers, and more! It’s quite astounding. Every character totally believable, voice and physicality changed in an instant and then swiftly switched again to another, or back to Arthur who addresses us the audience throughout the entire performance. Upbeat 1940s music is playing before the play begins which sets us in a different, simpler, era and as the music fades Bryan literally leaps on to the stage with an energy and immediacy that never dims throughout the 75 minutes. He completely owns the space and propels you along his story with him.
Arthur Robinson, whose family call him Joe because… “when you’ve got six children it’s faster if you get rid of a few syllables,” was a young lad living in Birkenhead in 1941. His mum has the cleanest front step on their street nestled under the shadow of Cammell Lairds shipbuilders. Arthur tells us he packs aircraft parts in a factory and is dead excited to get his best clobber on and go to the dance hall to see Mary who he is desperate to ask out but too shy. A bombing raid on the city changes everything and Arthur decides to join the army to fight Hitler.
Young Arthur had no idea where he was going, what he was going to do, what he would face and we are swept along in the innocence of this youthful, optimistic though shy unknown soldier’s life. Bryan is a totally engaging, always interesting, extremely personable actor who with no set or props manages to portray the entirety of the second world war in Asia, aided only by dramatic story telling and Jonny Ryan’s superb lighting and sound effects. Bryan transports us on board ships and trains on epic journeys with him to countries Arthur had no knowledge of, to the heat of dreadful battlefields, the exhausting jungles of the far east and to the unspeakable brutality of Japanese prisoner of war camps. It’s exhausting, and quite extraordinary. The abrupt end of the war and Arthur’s return home full of anticipation, and joy, to possibly be reunited with Mary is incredibly poignant but there is no happy ending. Yet the story of a young soldier’s life who determined to be optimistic come what may is incredibly uplifting. There were hundreds of thousands of Arthur’s in the second world war. Unknown soldiers full of ordinary hopes and dreams and aspirations, who made life better for the people around them, made people laugh and kept hope alive despite dreadful brutality and the most horrendous circumstances.
Bryan’s wonderful writing is resourceful, clear, heart-warming and beautifully paced. I’m intrigued and excited to see future work from this exceptionally talented writer and actor. It is especially poignant seeing In Loyal Company as we are commemorating the D Day Normandy landings when so many thousands of young men so bravely risked, and lost, their lives for future generations. Seeing men in their 90s still jumping out of planes reminds us of real ‘ordinary’ heroes like Arthur Robinson – Uncle Joe. Bryan’s tribute to his beloved unsung Great Uncle is a tribute to all these service men of WWII
In Loyal Company is a tour de force masterclass of superb and immense acting from David William Bryan. Intelligent, witty, fierce, physical, smart, poignant, incisive, reflective and fast paced. If you get a chance to see this do not miss it! For upcoming In Loyal Company tour dates, visit www.DavidWilliamBryan.com