Bishops Diocesan College, an independent boys' school in Cape Town, brings this ambitious production of Biloxi Blues to Edinburgh after their run of Master Harold... and the Boys last year. The show features a young cast performing a difficult play. Ultimately, they do well to conjure up the macho atmosphere of a WWII Mississippi training camp.
The play is the second in a trilogy of semi-autobiographical plays by Neil Simon. Our protagonist is Eugene Morris Jerome, an idealistic Jewish writer who studies and writes about his comrades. He tells us candidly (in one of the cast’s more convincing American accents) what he wants from the war: to become a writer, not get killed, fall in love and lose his virginity. These moments where he addresses a 'reader' draw in the audience, although the speedy transitions between some scenes indicate cuts from the original.
We meet the cast in transport to the camp. The characters don't know each other and their banter is all farts and burps and picking on the only other Jew, Arnold Epstein, an educated weakling who is curiously given a British accent. As the play progresses, the status of the recruits rises and falls as they make friends and enemies with one another. A brilliantly Southern drill-sergeant whips them into shape as they experience mistrust, bullying, nights in the town and competitiveness for alpha status. 'Polak' Wyzykowski, whose accent is spot on, is the brute of the pack, while Epstein provides an intelligent foil to his wilful forcefulness.
The play is meant to be comical, but rarely prompts a laugh. Funny lines aren't delivered well, while the wooden love story between Daisy Hannigan and Jerome is almost completely devoid of sentiment as the two rush to complete their lines. However, Rowena the prostitute and Selridge inject an essential dose of comedy to proceedings in a show that might otherwise have drowned in its worthy seriousness. Although South African accents often creep in to muddy the Mississippi setting, the exploration of human interaction and self-discovery within the crucible of army training is carried out well. The growth of the characters by the time they ship off to war is palpable, a mark of at least partial success.