Captain Ferguson's School for Balloon Warfare Review
As reveille sounds and the Stars and Stripes whips around the flagpole, we join Captain Thomas Morton Ferguson of the United States Army Air Service. It’s 1916 and our new home is a training base in Omaha, Nebraska where we will learn to take to the skies and float over an armed enemy in highly inflammable balloons.
Not that Captain Ferguson has any doubts about the wisdom of such an action; he is convinced of the military worth of this aeronautical innovation and is determined to win both our help and the support of Major General Pershing and the top brass. He sets about the task with fervour, drilling us and his recruits in the arts involved in spotting and reporting enemy positions so that the artillery can find their range.
The anally-retentive Ferguson is all creased trousers and clipped metaphor-laden speech with a weak line in humour and a love of Greek mythology. He sees himself as perhaps Sisyphus or Icarus. Possibly he has a subconscious identification with failure, and certainly he has a problem in that he is not taken seriously due to his lack of active service.
Not that he shows any self-doubt in his training, and pushes himself and his recruits beyond danger as the Expeditionary Force moves to the front lines in France.
Only now, as he sees the human cost of their endeavour on the battlefield, is he forced by his love of country and love of flight to consider what he might have to do to reach new heights.
This one-man show is clearly meticulously researched and it’s incredibly lavish in its presentation, using beautifully crafted props, costume, video and sound to tell an intriguing chapter in military history. The integration of video and sound into the performance allows the single performer to have a cast of characters join him on stage and is impressive, if a little sterile.
The action obviously centres on the main character, Captain Ferguson. Unfortunately, it’s a character that is never given substance and this blunts any responsiveness that we might feel towards him in the end. There seem to be hints in the narrative that he could be more rounded - developing his humility or the idea that he has a chip on his shoulder or an awareness that his winning ways don’t always work (like David Brent of TV series “The Office”).
In the absence of this elaboration it never really gets off the ground.
Show Times: Runs to 27 August 2012 (not 13, 20); 11.15 am.
Ticket Prices: £10 (£9) – 14-16, 21-23, 27 August. £12 (£11) – other dates.