My Boy Jack is no whimsical children’s fable written by popular British author Rudyard Kipling. Rather it is a heartrending, thought-provoking revelation about the author’s children, in particular Kipling’s relationship with his son Jack.
Rudyard Kipling is better known for his classic children’s stories than for the story of his own children. Kipling’s “Just So” stories have entertained generations of children since first published in 1902. His “Jungle Book” series is still so popular today and yet was first published in 1895. It has even become a motivational source for the worldwide cub scouts movement.
My Boy Jack focuses on the man rather than the storyteller, although it does manage to convey the extent of his enormous professional popularity and its effect on his family. David Roach gives arguably his best ever performance as the strident, jingoistic Kipling who urges all of England to fight to protect all that is wonderful about his homeland. The British Empire has spread its influence around the globe and World War One is looming. The zealous Kipling uses all of his powers of persuasion as a father to ensure that his own son, John, enlists. Three times Jack (Will Cox) is rejected by the armed forces because of poor eyesight before his father pulls strings to have him enlisted in the Irish Guard to fight with the 2nd Battalion in France. What follows is a tragic story common to those who fought and those who sent young men to fight in the trenches. Is there any comfort in knowing others experience the same grief?
Roach is compelling as the ardent activist, the overbearing father and ultimately the bereaved and bereft “daddo”. This is a man torn between his love of his children and his principles regarding his King and country. Will Cox is equally astounding as the young Jack overwhelmed by his father’s larger than life persona and keen to escape his father’s influence and make a life of his own.
Roach’s Rudyard and Cox’s Jack are the linchpins of this story but the entire ensemble upholds the integrity of this play with equally professional performances.
Kathryn Fisher’s performance as Rud’s wife Carrie is poignant as this strong-willed woman buckles under the weight of grief. Kate Wyatt is delightful as daughter and sister, Elsie Kipling and Oliver de Rohan’s Guardsman Bowe strikes just the right note as he delivers the news that the family has been dreading.
This is the story of a family with divided loyalties, a family split asunder by the sheer force of Kipling’s ideals and their moment in history. It is also the story of a generation of families struggling to find purpose and make sense of seemingly meaningless deaths.
The action takes place in the Kipling family home with a large British flag as a backdrop. Designers Rob Croser and David Roach have depicted this family schism brilliantly when the British family home set splits in two and the flag is furled revealing a World War One trench. Jack’s trench warfare scenes take place center and back stage as family members sit in cameo settings either side. The imagery is powerful.
Independent Theatre has produced yet another gem in its treasure trove of literary productions with this latest offering written by David Haig and directed by Rob Croser.
Independent Theatre presents
My Boy Jack
by David Haig
Venue: Odeon Theatre | Queen Street, Norwood
Dates: July 25, 30, 31, August 1, 6, 7, 8 at 7.30pm
Matinees: July 26, August 2 at 4.00 pm
Early performances July 29, August 5 at 6.30 pm