Tuesday, September 16, 2014
My Boy Jack by David Haig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Haig's drama succeeds by avoiding the clichéd and simplistic narrative so common in World War I literature. Yes, Kipling is vain, pompous, blindly patriotic and emotionally distant, but he still comes across as likeable, with a boyish enthusiasm for life and a genuine affection for his family. Jack, his doomed son, is a rounded and complex character, desperate to escape the suffocating atmosphere at home, while the daughter Elsie ("Bird") is a vigorous and strong-willed force in the family, rivalling her mother.
The story focuses on Rudyard Kipling's efforts to get his teenage son into the army, even before the war has begun. He has already been turned down by the Navy because of his appallingly bad eyesight. We see Jack enthusiastically following his father's efforts, but for his own reasons. We then see him with his men before going over the top at Loos and being reported "missing believed wounded" to his family. Apart from a tender flashback in which Rudyard shows his favouritism to his son above his daughter, this is the last we see of Jack.
The rest of the play focuses on the quest to find out JAck's fate, including a harrowing scene with a shell-shocked veteran who saw Jack's final moments.
The play's only weakness is the ending, where Haig sees Bird married off and then reacts to Hitler's rise to power, persuading him that his son's sacrifice was wasted. Finally, he reads his own poem 'My Boy Jack'. This feels like three different endings when only one was necessary.
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