How Many Miles to Babylon - Reviews
Alan Stanford’s adaptation of Jennifer Johnston’s 1974 novel extracts great theatricality from vivid story-telling.
Exploring friendship across lrish boundaries tested to the limit, Anglo- lrish Alec (Edward Cave, constantly on-stage) narrates his history whilst awaiting execution.
Cave’s reflective persona sashays the past beautifully. Shaking off his crushingly domineering mother (Red Grey, all forbidding radiance) he continues friendship with local Jerry - Fintan Shevlin dancer, piper, and jockey — a prophesy of ‘War Horse’ here, and an echo of ‘Of Mice and Men’ later. All bar jockeying are brilliantly displayed in Shevlin, including a memorable Irish band ensemble.
It’s 1914: both men enlist for different reasons. An act of Jerry’s pushes Alec’s friendship to an astonishing finale.
The second act bustles with characters in this twelve—strong cast in the Ypres scenes including mercy—killing a wounded man. Jeremy Crow glacially plays furious Major Glendenning who wishes to end all friendships, all lrishness in fact, barely containing his ferocity till he finally strikes Alec. Forbidding Belfast sergeant O’Keefe
Culann rings as virulently true as Crow. Apparent light relief flashes across in the insouciant Bennett (Matthew Mulvay) and Mark Green as a French barman: but both shadow trauma. Gerry McCrudden paces both frenzy and stillness to a pitch the actors turn into an outstanding production.
This is a long, strong, sometimes bitter conflict of a play carrying a great deal of emotional baggage.
While English audiences might find themselves unfamiliar with pre—1914 Irish Protestant social mores, Gerry McCrudden’s fine, moving production makes it clear we’re dealing with a collision of friendship, discipline, military authority and cruel indifference.
He has a large cast of excellent actors.
We’re mostly concerned with Alec (Edward Cave) and his “private secret friend” Jerry (Fintan Shevlin) with whom he shares a love of horses. Alec, unwilling ofﬁcer and gentleman, and Jerry, an uncomplicated lad from the village are inescapably bound in a loyalty which brings them a heart—breaking horribly unjust end on the battleﬁeld.
Red Gray is Alec’s mother, an Irish Hedda Gabler, a chilling wrong-headed authoritarian while her husband, Alec’s dad (or is he?) is Simon Messingham, offering a most moving understatement of family loyalty.
Assorted military nastiness comes from Philip Davies, Jeremy Crow and Culann Smyth with Matthew Mulvay is the cynical young officer not caring while everyone else cares too much.
There is attractive music from Robert Purchese, Adam Kincaid, James Macauley and Mark Green.