Review: Bomber’s Moon – Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

A Bomber’s Moon – a bright full moon that sheds light even on the darkest of nights. It’s an appropriate title for a play that sheds light on the pain of growing old, the darkness of a life ending and the regrets that haunt those twilight years.

Jimmy is a World War II gunner, shot down on his penultimate bombing raid in the Nuremberg raids. Having spent the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp, he now finds himself confined again, this time in a sheltered housing flat, a man of fierce independence and pride now reliant on the care of others.

Into Jimmy’s life enters David, his new carer. Fresh into the caring profession he soon finds the text book and reality are two entirely different beasts and that Jimmy isn’t entirely the frail patient he initially suspects. From a fragile start the two develop a strong bond, Jimmy explaining more about his wartime exploits and David revealing his own dark secrets. It’s a touching a tender relationship but also harrowing to watch as both Jimmy and David descend into their own respective darknesses.

William Ivory’s script isn’t for the faint hearted, pulling no punches with strong language and an even stronger look at the ravages of regret, but it proves to be an utterly compelling and rewarding journey. Multi-layered, revealing many hidden and repressed secrets over 2 ½ hours, it’s a constantly shifting relationship between the two men and at times its not clear who is caring for who.

Director Matt Aston makes great use of Laura McEwen’s simple but effective set, which combines Jimmy’s flat and a suggestion of the rusting, riveted hulk of his Lancaster bomber. James Francombe’s lighting provides plenty of atmosphere together with some nice touches such as the transformation of the door window into a full moon and the shadow’s of Jimmy’s ceiling fan thrown into a representation of the bombers propellers.

Paul Greenwood gives Jimmy a wonderful depth. Outwardly caustic and fiercely proud but inwardly full of fear and regret, Greenwood makes Jimmy harrowingly real. Tim Dantay’s David is initially the bright shining light of the caring profession but as the evening progresses, his mental decline becomes equally as disturbing as Jimmy’s. Both men are onstage virtually constantly for the entire piece, a remarkable achievement that is never less than totally gripping.

Switching between present day and the terror of the wartime bombing raids, this is a journey that covers considerable ground but it is the strength of the interaction and relationship of these two men that makes it wholly believable and in the end utterly harrowing to watch. It does though also prove to be strangely affirming and a demonstration of how friendships can endure, despite the biggest of challenges. A truly remarkable and illuminating piece.

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