With proceeds going to the Royal Scots Benevolent Fund, Anthony Mulligan and Paul Finegan’s poetry recital is an emotive account of war experience. It has many thought-provoking elements, but unfortunately is a very slow-moving piece of theatre.
Each poem is delivered with a measured dignity clearly articulating the performers’ investment in the words. Regretfully, after an hour and fifteen minutes of identical intonation, this has descended fully into monotony. The cadences of one or two pieces spice up the rhythm of performance, but these are few and far between. The overall impression the performance leaves is exacerbated by long gaps between each composition and a rather messy use of sound effects. Middle Eastern flutes play in the background of poems describing the trumpeting of bugles, for example, and sounds of explosions are randomly interjected in between sketches. Whilst often dialogue is put to good use and the duo is slickly rehearsed, ultimately the repetitive performance style detracts from the impact of the poetry.
Additionally, Paul Finegan’s poems are not in themselves anything particularly special. While some do have a certain personal charm – most notably ‘Bill and Ben: A True Story’ – the majority are indistinct enough to blur into one. I was anticipating a poignant insight into contemporary warfare and the lives of its soldiers, but I left feeling I had gained little more than what can usually be gleaned from the papers. This is a shame considering it is a topic that could deal with so many emotional themes and is such an important part of contemporary British life. The narrative successfully brings a reflective perspective to the stage, but I found that it didn’t quite capture the atmosphere and character of struggles in the warzone.
There is much in Afghan Days, Babylon Nights that needs to be spruced up and compacted, but Finegan and Mulligan are admirable actors. If you have a particularly long attention span, it is worth going to support the piece’s noble military charity collection; if not, maybe just donate online.