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 The Theatreguide.London Review

A Few Good Men
Theatre Royal Haymarket, Autumn 2005

The suspicious death of a person under restraint in the US military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Sounds familiar? It should do, even though this play is actually about marines doing in one of their own. Writer Aaron Sorkin hasn't updated his 1989 play (and later blockbuster 1992 movie) and, to be honest, he doesn't need to - the resonances with the ill-treatment meted out to the Bay's current Al-Qaeda inmates and those of Abu Ghraib are there for all to see.

That doesn't imply that A Few Good Men is a brilliant play, however. Nor that this is a particularly thrilling production.

It depends on what you're looking for. Most will be more familiar with the film version, which moved very much on the dark psychological side, developed character, and was quite good if a touch one-dimensional thanks to a cast of Hollywood heavyweights.

By contrast, Sorkin's original stage script is all over the place, jumping from intriguing whodunit to navy lark Mr Roberts to rookie lawyer romp The Paper Chase. It somehow works, if only for the surprising amount of laughs and the occasional moment of suspense.

Rob Lowe is the latest big screen import to the West End, and he ably fills the role of Daniel Kaffee, the deadbeat navy lawyer assigned to the no-hoper case of defending two marines facing court martial for accidently killing a comrade they felt wasn't up to scratch.

Jack Ellis is a suitably gung-ho Colonel Nathan Jessop, the camp commandant who confidently stonewalls the investigation behind a defence of of marine cameraderie and the US flag. Giving Kaffee grief on the other flank is Joanne Galloway, feistily played by Suranne Jones, the attractive internal affairs legal eagle who smells a rat and whose antagonism professionally to Kaffee might disguise quite the opposite personally.

Though director David Esbjornson keeps the dialogue timed for maximum effect and deftly moves his 18-strong cast around a versatile set of perimeter iron fences and desk-bound offices, he makes less of an impact with characterisation across the board.

Lowe's laconic lawyer, for example, should be crackling with dry cynical wit, while Ellis's Colonel Jessop should be as sinister as only a Shakespeare-quoting military man can be, and Jones should be setting up her own tension by convincing us that Galloway might just find Kaffee a case she'd like to win all for herself.

The court case in the second act suffers similarly where John Barrowman is left floundering as Jack Ross, the supposedly hotshot court martial prosecutor. It's not as bad as it sounds, it's just that it could be so much better.

Nick Awde

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Review - A Few Good Men - Haymarket 2005


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