COME Out Fighting is a play that explores the theme of sexuality within the armed services – highlighting the fact that despite progress in embracing the LGBT community, the forces still have issues with homophobia. The result is akin to two tectonic plates, rubbing up against each other.
Although not without its faults, the play is brave, brash and occasionally sensitive – at its best when exploring the damaging impact of sexual suppression in an environment where testosterone overload and machismo behaviour are very much to the fore.
Written and directed by Nick Bamford, the play (inspired by Georges Bizet’s Carmen) is primarily built around two characters: Private Carl Jarvis who is quite open about being gay and Corporal Joe Donaldson who is marrying a woman he really doesn’t love. It charts their up and down, hot and cold, sexual and violent relationship over a frantic 24 hours.
Both characters, respectively played by Jacob Mellers and Langley Howard, are rather screwed up – in part a result of disturbing childhoods.
Jarvis has a second job as a male stripper and can’t get enough of casual sex. He is also an inveterate liar.
Donaldson is more complex, a ticking timebomb who you would not want anywhere near a nuclear detonation button. Cooler on the outside than the furnace that burns within. Insecure and needy.
Donaldson is asked to escort Jarvis to face a number of military police charges – a result of having a second job and using his army uniform for his extracurricular work.
Yet the journey by jeep (from deepest Cornwall to Farnham) does not quite go to plan as Jarvis (cocky and full of the joys of spring) manages to wrap the good corporal around his little finger. They end up visiting a boxer, Eddie, with a voracious sexual appetite (of course, Carl knows him) who thinks he will be the next best thing in rap.
For the poor corporal, meltdown ensues as his sexuality is challenged at every twist and turn. Matters are not helped by Carl disappearing off with the boxer to enjoy Cornwall’s dunes, landing Joe in hot trouble and triggering regrettable actions.
There is a happy-ish ending involving a mix of retribution and forgiveness, but at 90 minutes the play is too long. At times, it stumbles along when more fizz should be the order of the day.
On other occasions, it loses its focus, meandering down unnecessary avenues. Yet the play is important and Bamford deserves credit for tackling key issues that still plague the armed forces.
The standout performance is from Langley Howard. His Joe literally disintegrates before our very eyes – a simmering pan of water ready to boil over.
Luke Harding, who doubles up as the boxer and Sergeant Lamb of the Military Police (a seriously confused individual), is also excellent. His rapping at the end, wearing a glittery jacket that would light up any night sky, is rather impressive.
The cast is completed by Kevin Johnson, who also doubles up – as Eddie’s long-suffering manager and a member of the Military Police.
A commendable play, yes. Of the moment. Yes, but with some fine tuning, it could be rather special.
Come Out Fighting runs until October 21, including a matinee performance on Saturday.
Photos by Nick Bamford
COME OUT FIGHTING
17 – 21 Oct
Drayton Arms Theatre