In Bomber’s Moon James Bolam plays the kind of sharp-tongued and witheringly sardonic octogenarian most of us can only dream of becoming: and the first half of William Ivory’s play is peppered with funny and vulgar rapid-fire banter between Bolam’s chair-bound Jimmy and doing-it-by-the-book care worker David from his first day in the job.

Since Ivory is also the screenwriter who sugared the women Ford workers’ valiant but unsuccessful industrial dispute to the point at which it became Made in Dagenham, sentiment is never far away and the markers somewhat obviously laid down in the first act about faith, mental trauma, loyalty and loss are called in in a second half which, despite the theatrical contrivance, may melt all but the most cynical resistance.

The play’s success rests on the authenticity of Ivory’s research based on his own grandfather’s memories of Bomber Command, and the absolute integrity of both actors. Bolam is measurably excellent even by the standards of his own stage and television career, by turns scatological and vulnerable, a longing for companionship undermining his defiance of the attention and the evangelism of his apparently Catholic carer.

Steve-John Shepherd opens with the gaunt twitchiness of the novice but assumes equality as the older man’s tale of being shot down, falling through the sky, and captured merges with and ultimately assuages his own painful story of a life lived on a different kind of precipice. When he also assumes the role of Jimmy’s fellow airman Frank, the bond both between the two characters and the two actors is beautifully made.

Laura McEwen’s shabby sheltered accommodation set is transformed, particularly through the shadows of a slowly turning fan and Damian Coldwell’s engine drone and chattering sound design into the gun-turret of a Lancaster bomber, re-living the events, and the heroism of seventy years ago.

 

This review originally written for Londonist.com