“You can’t handle the truth!”Lt. Col. Nathan Jessep – A Few Good Men
Castle Hill Players have done it again with knocking another production out of the park – this time in the form of Aaron Sorkin’s highly successful play later turned into a critically acclaimed film starring Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson and Demi Moore. “You can’t handle the truth!” is forever etched in our collective psyche thanks to countless spoofs and Jack Nicholson’s iconic delivery. With such prestige behind it, audiences have an expectation that this play will be a good one to watch, and this production definitely exceeded all expectations, judging by the rapturous applause in a fully packed house on opening night.
A Few Good Men tells the story of two young naval officers accused of murdering one of their comrades after following strict (and highly questionable) disciplinary orders. They are on trial to determine if the murder was committed wilfully or because they were explicitly issued with an order to enforce ‘Code Red’ (i.e. extreme disciplinary measures). The victim, Santiago, knew his life was in danger after snitching on another comrade and begged his superiors for a transfer which never came through. The superiors who allegedly issued the Code Red order will do anything to prove otherwise, even it means throwing the two young officers under a bus.
Defending the two young officers is Lt Daniel Kaffee (Dimitri Armatas) supported by Lt. Commander Joanne Galloway (Jacqui Wilson). Both are fairly inexperienced in high stakes legal court cases but are eager to prove their capabilities beyond superficial impressions: Kaffee seems to coast along, riding on his father’s famous legacy, while Galloway is criticised for ‘interfering’ as a woman and making costly mistakes. This dynamic tension works well, established with just the right balance of exposition and action in Act 1. When they become united in their purpose in Act 2 during the courtroom scene, it’s like watching a thrilling game of chess; it’s the kind of psychological-legal drama which has you hanging on the edge of your seat till the final showdown when those famous lines are uttered.
Director Annette Van Roden stays faithful to the stage script while giving actors plenty to work with – Armatas in particular shines in Act 2 when he can let loose a little and show the sarcastic wit of his character. Brendan McBride owns Jack Nicholson’s role (aka Lt Col. Nathan Jessep) with that cunning snake-in-the-grass formidability. Jono Burt as his sidekick Lt Jonathan James Kendrick is chilling with his religious do-or-die fervour. Wilson as Galloway is solid. Toby Rowe and Hamish Ingersoll as Dawson and Downey respectively make a good pairing as the two officers who have nothing to confess except their call of duty. Overall, the cast of 15 make this very American production work well for an Australian crowd with a great deal of patriotism and grit.
The set design by Abby Bishop also exceeded expectations which is always a signature calling card of any play at Pavilion Theatre. It’s clear a lot of thought went into how the stage would be set up to allow pockets of conversations to take place in different settings. The dynamic fluidity between past and present kept the dramatic tension going without breaking momentum. Each scene had a clear and precise objective. Act 2 – which predominately takes place in the courtroom – allows the audience to feel engaged as the jury.
At 2 hours duration plus 20 minute interval with a late start and finish, A Few Good Men is on the longish side to sit through, but definitely worth it for a few great hours of captivating and rewarding entertainment.
A Few Good Men is currently playing at the Pavilion Theatre in Castle Hill till 25 February. For tickets and showtimes, go to http://paviliontheatre.org.au/afewgoodmen/
Image credit: Chris Lundie