Edinburgh Fringe 2018
The incredible true story of missing WWII soldier Arthur Robinson by David William Bryan and Sascha Moore. Declared missing after his ship is sunk during the Battle of Singapore in 1942, this epic untold tale of survival is a one-man powerhouse performance presented by the team behind Trashed in 2017.
The rain patters persistently on the temporary roof as weary and waterlogged souls tramp into the makeshift room and Glenn Miller plays in the background, the floor almost empty save some basic furniture and a large trunk. Bursting on to the stage, ‘Joe’, whose real name is Arthur, runs frantically away from his offstage pursuers grasping tightly a loaf of bread which he has recently liberated for the family dinner. This is a welcome intrusion, however, and we are easily engaged in the runner’s story which he tells with panache and verve.
When we think about World War II we most likely immediately think of the battlefields and trenches of Europe, Flanders Fields, and Southern France, but there was another side to the war and one we talk about much less – a fight for freedom in the Far East. There are movies, of course, like Bridge On The River Kwai, but these only help us to know a small amount of what took place on the other side of the world. The Thailand to Burma railway, also known as the death railway, for example, was built in 1943 by the Empire of Japan to support its forces in the Burma campaign and ran for around 415 km from Ban Pong, Thailand, and Thanbyuzayat, Burma.
Between 180,000 and 250,000 Southeast Asian civilian labourers and about 61,000 Allied prisoners of war were subjected to forced labour during its construction. About 90,000 civilian labourers and more than 12,000 Allied prisoners died.
When Arthur joined up he didn’t know what to expect, where he would go, or what he had gotten involved with but he knew he wanted to serve his country. As with life, this is no easy story to tell but this is a powerhouse performance. Committed and honest, raw and painful, funny yet tragic, right from the first. The simple but effective setting, lights, costume, and sound, add an authenticity to the well-written and meticulously researched narrative which is brilliantly played out in front of us. Indeed, knowing that this play is based on the real life exploits of the performer’s own great uncle makes it all the more heart-wrenching but the story is told with a clear dedication to the memory and a huge amount of love.
As we sit in the darkened theatre it is in some ways very easy to distance ourselves from the story being played out in front of us. To push away from the inevitable connection we will feel should we allow ourselves to get to close or become too involved. But David William Bryan’s immediate and persuasive narrative and engaging style force us to comply and we too are swept away on the marathon journey from Liverpool to India to Singapore and elsewhere. The masterful writing and accomplished performance all add to a hugely powerful and deeply moving piece which will leave you sobbing while cheering this outstanding production.