Bully Boy at Nuffield Theatre, Southampton

Anthony Andrews with newcomer Joshua Miles in rehearsal for Bully Boy
Anthony Andrews with newcomer Joshua Miles in rehearsal for Bully Boy
As You Like It, with Jessica Hayles centre. Picture by Keith Pattison

How do you like it? Gender and politics in Shakespeare at the New Theatre Royal

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TRAGICALLY, Sandi Toksvig’s new play will always be timely, because it examines the dehumanising effects of war on those who fight in them.

But it is more than timely. It is fiercely powerful as well.

It has only two speaking characters - an army major investigating the death of an Afghan boy, and 20-year-old squaddie Eddie, who is accused of throwing the eight-year-old down a well.

For almost all its unbroken 90 minutes, which take in other wars going back to the Falklands, Bully Boy keeps the audience guessing.

But the denouement, when it comes, seems absolutely right - and that is a tribute not only to the writing but to Patrick Sandford’s fluent, unostentatious direction and the always compelling acting of Anthony Andrews and newcomer Joshua Miles.

The latter has not yet graduated from drama school but the depth with which he portrays Eddie’s rages, sulky insolence and humour all indicate a big career ahead.

Ms Toksvig’s well-established success in comedy is crucial in reflecting that no-one does black humour as well as the armed forces, but she is also clever in throwing in statistics.

When the major barks ‘I lost the use of my legs because I went to war,’ the squaddie retorts ‘And I lost my mind.’

Until May 28.