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Bully Boy at Blood Moon Theatre - Review

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by Emily Saint-Smith (subscribe)
Writer, theatre enthusiast and foodie. Proud Mum to Humphrey Bogart the Pug.
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Thought-provoking play unpacks the real casualties of war
It's not often you get to see a powerful piece of live theatre for around the same price as a night at the movies, but that's what A Night of Play deliver with their production of Sandi Toksvig's Bully Boy.

Bully Boy, A Night of Play, King's Cross, Theatre, Amateur Theatre, War
Jaymie Knight and Patrick Cullen star in Bully Boy
Through the work of just two actors, we are transported to modern-day Afganistan, where Private Eddie Clark is being investigated for an apparent war crime by wheelchair-bound Major Oscar Handley. Over the next hour and a half we learn more about the events of that fateful day, but more importantly we see the devastating effect of war on the human body and mind.

British comedian and presenter Toksvig's writing is sharp, authentic and full of surprising facts from Britain's war history. She clearly has a passion for the topic and does not shy away from the inevitable question of just why British, American and Australian soldiers are currently fighting in the Middle East.

Bully Boy, A Night of Play, King's Cross, Theatre, Amateur Theatre, War
Patrick Cullen delivers commanding performance
The show lists itself as an amateur production, and sure, the lack of budget is evident in the basic set and props. However, the costumes are well rendered and the staging powerfully intimate. The venue, a back room in The World Bar (King's Cross), is actually fitting for a play of this intensity. Sitting within touching distance of the actors, you feel almost like a jury member, passing your own judgement on the witnesses' testimony.

But what really makes this show a success is the acting, in particular that of Patrick Cullen (Eddie). Cullen gives us a genuine, committed performance. He has clearly worked hard on his Lancashire accent (not an easy one to master) and is 100% believable as a young and na´ve British soldier who was just 'following orders'. Even in moments of silence, Cullen's face is captivating; this actor is destined for big things. Playing opposite Cullen is Jaymie Knight (Oscar), who manages his character's confinement particularly well. There are moments of delightful abandon in Knight's performance, although his accent fails at times.

Bully Boy, A Night of Play, King's Cross, Theatre, Amateur Theatre, War
Jaymie Knight as Major Oscar Hadley
Director Deborah Mulhall manages the pace of the play well, at times giving us heated arguments where the characters bellow over one another and at others allowing room for silence and pause. Scene changes are achieved minimally, often in full light, as the actors simply reset themselves in a new position on the stage. While this keeps the action moving, all of the scene changes could have benefited from a musical soundtrack and full black-out to help the audience to process the passage of time and location. But this is a minor distraction in an otherwise well-rehearsed production.

Plays are not meant to be read, they are meant to be performed, and Toksvig's Bully Boy is entertaining, poignant and delivers an important message. It is fantastic that a group of theatre practitioners have been able to bring it to Sydney audiences. The play runs for just on an hour and a half, including interval, allowing plenty of time to talk about the show over dinner afterwards. So grab a beer, take a seat and enjoy a thought-provoking night out.
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*Emily Saint-Smith was invited as a guest
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Why? Bully Boy delivers bang for buck
When: 7.30pm
Where: Blood Moon Theatre, The World Bar, 24 Bayswater Road, King's Cross
Cost: $25 Adults, $20 Concession
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