Chichester’s Sarah Cameron is delighted to return to her old school for the debut production from a new theatre company set up by her former drama teacher Ed Cousens, director of drama at Westbourne House Prep School.
Ed is masterminding a production of My Boy Jack as part of the commemoration of the centenary of the end of the First World War, the first show from Westbourne House Players, an adult theatre group comprised of staff, former pupils, present pupils and friends of the school. The production will be in the school’s Millennium Theatre to raise money for The Royal British Legion (2pm and 7.30pm on Friday, Sept 21; 7.30pm on Saturday, Sept 22, eventbrite.co.uk)
It is 1913 and England is getting ready for war. Rudyard Kipling is torn between love for his son and an unswerving belief that his country must defeat Germany at all costs.
Despite his severe myopia and thanks to his father pulling strings, Jack Kipling joins the army to fight in The Great War. He is declared missing after only a couple of weeks.
Sarah, now a final-year student at Durham University studying liberal arts, is playing Jack’s sister Elsie, strongly opposed to his going to war.
“From our 21st-century perspective, it is easy to think of all the loss and the tragedy that was yet to come. You are looking back and thinking why would people want to volunteer, but they believed it was a just and noble cause, which is what Rudyard Kipling is saying. But Elsie represents the 21st-century view.
“Rudyard Kipling is so involved in his ideology about nationalism and honour that he fails to grasp the human aspect of the human loss, which is bizarre. He has already lost his eldest daughter to illness. She died when she was about seven. But he is so keen to send his son into war that he doesn’t understand the human consequences of war.
“For the mother and Elsie, it is more intense. Elsie has already lost a sister. If she loses a brother, she is all alone. She is quite a bolshy character. She is definitely not afraid to speak up against her father. He doesn’t scare her. He scares quite a lot of the other family members, but he doesn’t scare Elsie, and the only reason she doesn’t succeed is because Jack is so desperate to prove to his father that he is a man and also he wants to escape from this very repressive, claustrophobic environment of home. He says he just wants to get away and to be himself. He just feels suffocated by all the expectations.
“Elsie interrogates the reasons. She tries to point out to her father that Jack doesn’t want to go into war for some noble cause. He just wants to escape the suffocating life-style. But Rudyard Kipling just brushes all that aside… and Jack just wants to escape.
“And that’s the most bitter point in the play. Elsie says to him essentially ‘You just murdered your own son’ which is very heavy-hitting, and that’s when Rudyard Kipling realises that nationalism and honour are good but not when the price is the life of your own son… “