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Veteran's Day at the Finborough Theatre

Published by: Carolin Kopplin on 11th Jan 2017 | View all blogs by Carolin Kopplin


Colonel Kercelik (Charlie de Bromhead) and Sergeant Butts (Craig Pinder)

All they ever cared about was each other and the hell they'd been through.

Originally produced in Denver and Los Angeles, Veterans Day by political playwright Donald Freed was last seen in the UK at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, in 1990, with Jack Lemmon, Michael Gambon and Robert Flemyng. The London critics loved Jack Lemmon but hated the play, which might be one reason why there hasn't been a revival as yet. Marooned Productions in association with the Finborough now provides the opportunity to see this play after almost thirty years.

Three American war veterans meet at a Veterans Administration Hospital just before a remembrance ceremony where two of them are going to be decorated by the commander-in-chief himself: Private Leslie R. Holloway (Roger Braban), veteran of the First World War, in a wheelchair and in an almost catatonic state; John MacCormick Butts (Craig Pinder), a Sergeant in the Second World War; and Colonel Walter Kercelik (Charlie de Bromhead), the most highly decorated soldier of the Vietnam War with the looks and demeanour of an All-American hero.

The enervatingly chatty John Butts, who makes his living as a used-car salesman, contrasts nicely with the quiet authority of Colonel Kercelik, a teacher at West Point. Private Holloway's presence, though almost entirely silent, adds to the anti-war message of this play. As the evening progresses, the characters begin to talk about their experiences and it becomes clear that all three of them have been badly damaged by their experience although the ever jolly John Butts states: "In terms of fun, nothing ever comes even close to the war." Employed in an administrative function, Butts was mainly responsible for providing the big brass with a fresh supply of young girls. He returned from the war with a defective digestive system and a grudge against the Japanese who, after losing the war, now seemed to win the peace with their car industry. Private Holloway is forever trapped in a world of his own "where the dead murder the living". The calm Colonel Kercelik, a picture book soldier, turns out to be a sociopath who intends to assassinate the President as a representative of all the commanders-in-chief who have sent soldiers into the hell of war, leaving many of them dead, mutilated or badly traumatised - either by the deeds of others or their own crimes. 


Private Holloway (Roger Braban) and Colonel Kercelik (Charlie de Bromhead)

This is the part where the drama stops working. After making valid points about the horrors of war and the appalling treatment of the veterans, the play takes a sharp turn into implausibility and becomes an absurd melodrama. After Kercelik informs Butts of his plans to assassinate the President including the catatonic soldier as a preposterous element, Butts does not even try to prevent the assassination attempt although Kercelik does not have a weapon or pose a threat - except to the President. The confrontation between Butts and Kercelik is rather one-sided and the outcome seems clear from the start because Butts is so weakly written that he is not a suitable antagonist for the deranged but strong and persuasive Kercelik who bombards Butts with conspiracy theories.

Hannah Boland Moore's production benefits from an outstanding cast who are sadly let down by a dramaturgically faulty play. Military marches and popular war songs throughout the 20th century, forcefully played on the piano by Craig Pinder, add to the authenticity of the production which is skilfully designed by Liam Bunster - a canvas splattered with blood and dirt covering the back wall and a sundry of props on the floor, including a defective gumball machine.

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 24th January 2016

Finborough Theatre

Box office: 0844-847 1652

Running time: 85 minutes without an interval

Photographs by Scott Rylander.



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