In Loyal Company
Reviewed – 27th January 2019
“a gripping, moving tale about the limits of human endurance and the strength of young people’s spirits”
Arthur Robinson (but his family calls him ‘Joe’ because it’s simpler) is a young lad in Liverpool in 1941. He works as a packer in a factory, goes to the dancehall where he’s too nervous to ask a girl named Mary to dance, and looks forward to his mum’s scouse dinner on Sundays. All of that changes when the Germans bomb the city. By chance, Joe’s family’s house is spared. Joe’s best mate Frank isn’t so lucky. Frank’s death is a turning point: Joe decides to join the army.
In Loyal Company, written and performed by David William Bryan, is the true story of Bryan’s great-uncle, who fought in South-East Asia during WWII and was eventually taken prisoner by the Japanese. It’s a gripping, moving tale about the limits of human endurance and the strength of young people’s spirits. From ‘lights up’, Bryan’s talent as a performer is clear. He owns the stage, powering through the hour with the sort of ease and confidence that’s truly enjoyable to watch. With only vivid description, some good movement direction, and sound effects, Bryan and Jonny Ryan (lighting and sound) bring a war to life.
There is no set – just one crate on a bare stage – and yet, with the richness of his language, and the earnestness of his performance, Bryan succeeds in immersing the audience in the foxholes of battlefields, aboard ships, and in the jungles of Thailand. The shows at VAULT Festival are at varying stages of development. In Loyal Company stands out for its sophistication and polish.
Bryan’s ability as an actor is well-matched by his skill as a writer. He’s crafted a tight hour. Where many fringe shows struggle with meandering narratives that stall and start, it’s a relief to be on a deliberate, solidly-structured, well-paced journey. One potential issue is that the second half is much heavier in tone than the first. Although this is natural for war stories, a bit more levity might have been nice – some comic relief appreciated. It would soften the contrast between the two halves, which at the moment is quite stark. Nevertheless, it’s an absorbing story and a thoroughly engaging performance. Bryan is undoubtedly an artist to watch.
As a WWII story, In Loyal Company takes on extra significance this week, which includes Holocaust Memorial Day. Although the story doesn’t deal directly with the events in Europe at the time, it is a powerful reminder of the horrors so many young British men endured in defiance of fascism. At a time currently witnessing a rise in nationalism and the scapegoating of outsiders, stories like Bryan’s hit back with stinging relevance. Just two generations ago, the British people sacrificed everything to take down Hitler’s regime. Today there are certain, increasingly vocal factions that want to emulate it. Now more than ever it’s imperative to tell our grandfathers’ stories. Remembering real heroes, like Arthur ‘Joe’ Robinson, who fought against world leaders caring nothing for human rights, may help curb the rising tide of hatred.
Reviewed by Addison Waite
In Loyal Company
Part of VAULT Festival 2019