In Loyal Company by David William Bryan
Despite the fact that we had been in Edinburgh for less than 24 hours, we were chomping at the bit to see what else the biggest Fringe festival in the world had to offer. Before even getting to the Fringe, we had been following the progress of In Loyal Company on Twitter, so it made perfect sense that David William Bryan’s one man show about a prisoner of war during WW2 should be our first watch of the festival. We had been looking forward to seeing it for a while, and it certainly did not disappoint.
In Loyal Company is based on the true story of Bryan’s great uncle, Arthur Robinson, who went missing during his service in the Second World War. The story starts before he signs up to fight, as we are introduced to Arthur’s family (his mother has the cleanest doorstep in the street, don’t you know) and get a glimpse of what life on the home front in Birkenhead is like. There is great warmth and humour in Bryan’s performance here, endearing you to Arthur – known as Joe – straightaway, which makes his later ordeals in the war all the more of an emotional punch to the gut. These shifts in tone are handled masterfully by Bryan, who shifts seamlessly from gentle comedy to heartbreaking pathos like the flick of a switch as he describes the horrors of what he saw and experienced. It was fascinating to see a different aspect of the war, after we focus so much on small village life on the home front in Greyhounds; our characters struggle to deal with the repercussions of war, whereas Joe is right in the thick of the action.
As Bryan takes us from Birkenhead to India, Singapore, and Thailand we meet a few other characters who, although their appearances are often fleeting, are still distinctive and well played. They feel rounded and their respective relationships with Joe feel convincing; I was particularly moved by his fellow soldier, George, and Joe’s interactions with his parents.
Bryan is an excellent story teller. The script is tight and well written, and well balanced between moving the plot forward and world-building details that help the audience to imagine what it was like to live and serve in these conditions. As a performer, Bryan works extremely hard in this hour long play; his performance is as physical as it is emotional. I was struck by how his body almost seemed to transform before our eyes as the war took its toil. His physicality was excellent.
I cannot finish the review without giving a specific mention to the technical aspects of the performance. The lighting and sound complemented the action perfectly and was extremely slick. Each part of this production was well executed, and the hour flew by. Congratulations and well done to everyone involved on a thoroughly excellent show!