Ipswich Gallery Studio hosts Sandi Toksvig play

Ben Maytham's young squaddie Eddie Clark turns on his superior officer

Ben Maytham's young squaddie Eddie Clark turns on his superior officer Major Oscar Hadley, played by Dean Wales, in Sandi Toksvig's Bully Boy which is being staged at the Gallery Studio, Ipswich, between November 23-27 - Credit: Matt Meyrick

The Gallery Players are well known for presenting rarely seen plays – it was one of founding principles of the group’s creator Pat Taplin, when the company was established in 1985 – now the group are also looking to provide a platform for new writing.

In November, the group will be staging a double bill of entertaining and yet thought-provoking one-act plays: Bully Boy by Sandi Toksvig and the world premiere of The Mortuary Sisters by Colchester-based playwright Jazz Ely.

Helen Clarke with writer-director Jazz Ely and the casts of Bully Boy and The Mortuary Sisters outside the Gallery Studio

Helen Clarke with writer-director Jazz Ely, second left, and the casts of Bully Boy and The Mortuary Sisters outside the Gallery Studio in Ipswich - Credit: Wade Ablitt

Helen Clarke is directing actors Dean Wales and Ben Maytham in Sandi Toksvig’s modern-day war drama.

She said: “Bringing Bully Boy to the Studio is personally extremely satisfying for me. Dean and Ben first performed the play two years ago in a small room at Felixstowe Library. The audience reaction was overwhelming, and I knew their performances deserved to be seen by a wider audience. This feels like the perfect end to the journey.”

At first sight this thought-provoking drama may seem to be an odd subject for a comedian to write about, but it grew as an off-shoot of another project that she was researching. She stumbled into a world of post-traumatic stress disorder and how it remains a huge problem in today’s army.

She wrote of the play: “I thought about the young men I had met who had been sent to do an incomprehensibly difficult job by their nation and who, in many instances, had not been cared for properly when they returned home, broken inside. …. I remain full of rage on behalf of the young men who have been sent to do older men’s political bidding.”

Dean Wales and Ben Maytham in Sandi Toksvig’s

Dean Wales, right, and Ben Maytham in Sandi Toksvig’s modern-day military drama Bully Boy which explores the effects of post-traumatic stress on soldiers serving in war zones. - Credit: Matt Meyrick

The play follows Falklands War veteran Major Oscar Hadley who is sent to a combat zone to probe allegations of severe misconduct by Eddie Clark, a young squaddie from Burnley, and part of a self-styled 'Bully Boy' unit of the British Army.

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As the interrogation develops, Oscar begins to discover that 'truth' in a modern insurgency can be a point of view rather than a fact.

To accompany Sandi’s fairly new play, Helen wanted to offer a local writer the chance to stage a new work and was impressed by the work of Colchester writer Jazz Ely, a member of the Colchester Mercury’s writers group, who offered to write a piece to complement the atmosphere of Bully Boy while bringing a slightly lighter tone.

Helen said: “New writing is so important to the future of theatre. The Gallery Players were founded for the purpose of staging lesser known works, and supporting new works by new playwrights is a natural extension of this.

“So, it’s fantastic that the extremely talented Jazz Ely will be premiering her brand new, deliciously dark play, The Mortuary Sisters. The two plays together promise to deliver a powerful and extremely thought-provoking evening of theatre.”

Jazz describes The Mortuary Sisters as a dark comedy that focuses on the relationship of two sisters who’ve grown up in a morgue, making over corpses from a young age, yet who have become very different people. The play is a mixture of light and shade.

Claire Walkinshaw and Lottie Pook bring April and Polly to life as complex, dynamic and conflicted young women trying to help each other move on.

The Double bill of Bully Boy and The Mortuary Sister is at the Gallery Studio Theatre in St Georges Street, Ipswich from November 23-27. Tickets can be booked online

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