Kevin Hely stares, bares his teeth and darts along the stage. His character’s an ex-soldier, hard-as-nails and sweary; you’ll see why he had to choose the army, a seemingly better home than the one he couldn’t stand as a child. He’s been abused; mutilated emotionally by a family who, frankly, didn’t care for him. In his words, they were c-words.
Hely is a canny performer who can bring to life to even the stodgiest of prose.
The Rose of Jericho is unswerving, firing a bitter shot at the sickly nostalgia of WWI commemorations. There’s no romanticising: war’s a terrible effort for terrible people born of terrible backgrounds. The language of the monologue reflects the grim content. It’s stark, lucid and determined to put you off war by the vivid details of its horrors. At times, its mission to make itself clear means The Rose of Jericho gains a pallor; it’s a bit too plain and safe for a play trying to emotionally deter. For those in the audience already anti-war, a pacifist reproval needs more than basic prose to keep it chugging along.
There is a moment late in this play when it hits a suitably bold style, one it’s been looking for for the previous thirty minutes. Unfortunately, this is the style of Wilfred Owen in his famously polemic Dulce et Decorum Est. Hely shows off his skills in a sour delivery of the poem, and you can infer from this what the monologue could have been with a meaner script. Honestly, I’d have been content watching Hely rattle off the works of Sassoon. His wrathful, arduous method works wonders on WWI poetry.
The poetry doesn’t continue, however. The ex-soldier has a frustratingly damascene conversion at the hands of Owen and gets political. Sadly this means he also gets boring, losing his edge as a consequence of his admirable intent.
The Rose of Jericho doesn’t revolutionise and doesn’t it shock in any of the ways it’s trying to, but Hely is a canny performer who can bring to life to even the stodgiest of prose. I’d see him again, though maybe not this monologue. Maybe a show of pure war poetry next year?