Given the current anti-war climate, it is surprising that there are not more plays around at the moment that touch on the subject. In Lone Star and Private Wars, we have a double bill populated with Vietnam war veterans with broken dreams and minds. Jo Fletcher-Cross was in the first night audience at the King’s Head to see what they have to say about the current situation.
It is clear that not everyone in this audience is here for a savage indictment of the effect of war on the minds of young soldiers. There are several girls in carefully chosen, artily messed-up outfits who are talking breathlessly in clipped tones before the show about why they have crammed into the tiny King’s Head. And when the object of their admiration steps on stage, they sit up straight, thrilled by the sight of James Jagger, the offspring of Jerry Hall and Mick Jagger. His tall frame, model good looks and unmistakable Jagger lips may be sending frissons of excitement through the female denizens of Islington, but the real excitement here is the discovery of two witty, sharp plays that cut through the endless psycho-babble spoken about the mental anguish of those who go to war, and present us with characters we can believe in, sympathise with, and most of all, laugh with – and sometimes at.
Lone Star is set in the backyard of a rundown Texas bar, with tyres, tools and broken planks scattered around. Georgia Lowe’s set has the air of somewhere abandoned and unloved, and Kimberly Egan’s well-judged use of sound creates the atmosphere of a hot mid-western night, music spilling from the bar and crickets chirping away under the stars. Roy (Shane Richie) has returned from Vietnam and is struggling to fit back into the small town, and his younger brother Ray (William Meredith) has some difficult things to tell him. Bumbling Cletis (James Jagger) does not help matters by stealing and wrecking Roy’s beloved pink 1959 Thunderbird. Ray is an endearing, adoring brother, and has all the best lines as the rather stupid, malleable recipient of Roy’s tales of violence and boozing. The ghost of the children they once were hangs over their slightly ridiculous, alcohol-sodden re-enactment of Roy’s war experiences.
For Private Wars, the scuzzy backyard is turned into the neat, flower-decked porch of an army hospital. Gately, William Meredith’s gentle, Hiawatha-reciting hillbilly, endlessly tries to fix a radio, and a priggish mother’s boy (James Jagger) writes home about his new friendships, trying to hide how much he is being bullied by the crude and vulgar Silvio (Shane Ritchie). Richie is all rolling eyes and twitches as he flashes the nurses and teases poor Natwick. They have all been damaged by the war, physically and psychologically, but they torment, amuse and, in an intensely touching moment, comfort each other, as they try to come to terms with what the world holds for them now.
These are two funny, touching plays, but each has a serious point to make about the damage done to young minds forced to take part in a war they do not understand. That they are presented to us in a humorous, clever way only makes us sympathise more with these damaged boys.
Lone Star/Private Wars is at the King’s Head until 23 September 2007.