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Edinburgh Fringe 2022

Johnny Got His Gun

Rossi, Holopainen, Riikonen in association with From Start to Finnish

Genre: Adaptation, Drama, Theatre

Venue: ZOO Southside - Studio


Low Down

Joe Bonham is in hospital. He has lost most of himself mentally in conflict and physically as a result of that conflict. In a performance taking in music, drinking champagne, being machine gunned down, neon lights and a new spin on that old lie, Dulce et Decorum Est, it is a physically exhausting piece of challenging theatre.


We enter to a man whose face is covered in a bandage laid out on a steel table. Emerging slowly, cautiously his physicality draws us into his story, told in snippets, short bursts of narrative and repetition which merge the emotion of his circumstances with the shock and horror of the events leading up to him being here. Our performer rushes to engage with us, the audience as well as the physical limits of his new condition, angrily attempting to make himself heard to nurses, new and unintelligible.

The structure of the piece does begin to lose some of its shape towards the end, but it does, nonetheless grip throughout. It helps by having a performer who is in tune with that structure and inhabits Joe with such conviction. Despite the fact that he is supposed to only be a torso, he does manage to dance and interact with us. It gives us a sense of his frustration. Some of the best bits included the Lord’s Prayer sung to the Stars and Stripes, Casablanca for under the sheets and how he struggled to speak with nurses. It spoke to more than his suffering.

The soundscape is great, and we have, for those of us old enough, Thatcher announcing the Falklands War which brings back unpleasant memories. It is perhaps that which strikes the heartiest and most significant blow as it reminds us that whilst we may think of war and its effects as a far distant element of our parent’s makeup, it is of our generation too – all of our generations.

The effect of the piece overall is to leave us with a sense of the gung ho materialism of a time when there was good and there was the rest. If we could believe we were the good guys we could ignore and denigrate the rest. Such surety bred deceit, of and by us, and when Johnny was told to go and get his gun, he went. As a consequence, we all got poorer.