King's Head Theatre, London N1
Opened 30 August
, 2007

James McLure's 1979 diptych of Vietnam-vet three-handers is decent enough fare; Pvt. Wars, in particular, gets revived every few years on the London fringe. But to be candid, this outing is obviously intended as a vehicle, since two-thirds of the cast consist of actor and comedian Shane Richie and James Jagger, son of Sir Mick. In such circumstances, the surprise is that Henry Mason's production really doesn't stink.

Jagger especially confounds expectations, not just with a brace of more than creditable performances but by his very willingness to play a couple of dorks. In Lone Star he commandeers his mother Jerry Hall's Texan accent as Cletis, a small-town nobody whose casual clothes are slightly too well pressed and who stands in an S-shaped slouch; his mere presence seems to lead to a drunken reckoning between Viet vet Roy (still a layabout after two years back Stateside) and his younger brother Ray. In Pvt. Wars, a kind of military-hospital Cuckoo's Nest, Jagger is the spectacularly prissy Natwick, who wears aquamarine silk pyjamas instead of standard-issue hospital fatigues and who finds it incredible that his new friend has probably never read the New Yorker.

Richie, too, is a pleasant surprise at least in Lone Star. You can see the arsenal of casual attention-grabbing chops he deploys as Roy, but he is working in the service of his character even through a couple of brief misjudgements. The humour of his role in Pvt. Wars is broader, but still not quite as broad as he plays it; his Silvio, a Tiggerish psychotic whose genitals were shot off in 'Nam, is all shambling, bug eyes and Brooklyn-Eyetie accent. And it should be noted that the finest performances of all come from the sole non-name in the company: as Ray and Gately respectively, William Meredith drops McLure's bathetic punchlines delicately over the net and then pretends modestly that the resultant laughs are nothing to do with him.

There are no great wonders contained herein; Roy and Ray eventually make up, and it's clear that the trio in hospital will continue fighting their respective private wars with their own psyches, albeit in greater comradeship. But as prospective West End transfers go, I've seen a lot worse and a lot more often.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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