There are times when silence can be deafening and where truth is more compelling than the most carefully crafted story. Wednesday night at Le Colombier Theatre was one of those times.
Some way into the performance I looked around the auditorium - it was during the lone monologue of the show - to see 120 people collectively holding their breath as the character stared, with them, into the pit of despair in which he found himself. That deafening silence was later replaced by an equally deafening roar of approval as many of the audience rose to its feet to acclaim one of the most powerful performances that the FET has hosted.
In Loyal Company written and performed by David William Bryan is the true story of Arthur- but we will call him Joe- all his friends and family do. In Joe’s world the only thing that outshines his youthful smile and cheek is his mother’s front doorstep as, despite the war, he continues his day to day life of a young man. To him the war is nothing like as frightening as asking the ever unobtainable Mary to dance.
That changes when he and his family are directly affected during bombing raids and the death of his best friend drives Joe, like many men of his age, into the recruiting office. The tale then chronicles Joes war from easy street in India to surrender, capture and incarceration in a Japanese PoW camp.
This story, or more accurately some like it, have been told before in plays, books and films but to your reviewer it was the way it was told that set it apart. Bryan’s seemingly boundless energy exhausted the audience for the first 30 minutes whilst for the latter part of the show they shared his agonising suffering at the hands of his captors. The daily fight to keep each other alive, to ignore the ritual beatings and summary executions becomes all encompassing as Joe forgets there is a life beyond today and maybe tomorrow. Even his eventual release is tinged with sadness as is his return to Liverpool. I will not say more than to recommend you see this production.
It is true that this production has been honed through many hours at the Edinburgh festival, and the relationship between the actor and his sound and lighting engineer is worthy of comment because as simple as the stage set was, the sound and light form a crucial part of the feel and rhythm of the piece.
It is also true to say that the FET audience are generally of an age where relatives or family friends may have been Joe or someone like him and I watched after the show as many spoke with David and gave him their heartfelt thanks for what had been at times a difficult story to watch but told with respect and a final dignity.