If you were anywhere near the Pleasance Courtyard this year, you’ll of heard of Lab Rats Theatre’s In Loyal Company as it shook the Fringe with its sell out run and critical acclaim. It isn’t until you watch David William Bryan carefully and skilfully relate the true story of his great uncle Arthur “Joe” Robinson that it all makes sense. Being a World War II drama, you might expect guaranteed attention from an older demographic ever-present at the Fringe; and while In Loyal Company is, at its heart, that play it also accomplishes so much more than typical stories about War to the point where it sets a new standard for the genre.
There is an urgency to Bryan’s storytelling, a striking and heartening eagerness to relate Joe’s story that becomes so much more understandable after finding out that the two are actually flesh and blood.
Bryan’s Joe exudes friendliness as he interacts with an audience unused to modern subversive styles in a play about War. This immediately established charm is constant, forming the backbone of Bryan’s connection with the audience. Soon, Joe is introducing himself and his family life in Liverpool; Bryan’s warmth here is perfectly positioned to contrast with Joe’s later experiences in War. Joe feels fantastically honest, never becoming as cliche or naive as he could. A massively enjoyable early scene illustrating a dancehall perfectly demonstrates one body’s storytelling power. From here, the story quickly starts rolling in a totally fresh way. The narrative flows seamlessly, powering forward like a dance while remaining real and alive. The Liverpool Blitz is scarily brought to life by powerful sound and light design from Jamie Keene, before Joe leaves to join the War in the South-East Asian Theatre.
There is an urgency to Bryan’s storytelling, a striking and heartening eagerness to relate Joe’s story that becomes so much more understandable after finding out that the two are actually flesh and blood. The story is adapted in an exceptionally sharp script from Bryan and Sascha Moore; its finer details and nuances carefully cultivated in Bryan’s performance while the host of colourful characters are all wonderfully brought to life with individual flavour. The action is remarkably illustrated and exciting to watch as Keene’s design and Bryan’s performance elevates Joe’s journey as he makes his way through the Battle of Singapore to incarceration at the hands of the Japanese. As the story takes its toll on Joe, what is striking is how the storytelling becomes prevalent in the character’s appearance and demeanour, creating a clear arc and acting as a testament to Bryan’s powerhouse performance.
Bryan’s constant friendliness and deep emotional clarity combine with a stunningly simple yet detailed story to create a truly magnificent piece of theatre. As a stunned audience quickly rise to their feet in the Pleasance Beside to applaud Bryan, he does not bow immediately, but instead stands in a salute as the last post is played. This respect for the subject matter shows a moving level of care that seals the fate of In Loyal Company as a not only a masterpiece of War storytelling but also a masterpiece of storytelling in general.