The 1990s courtroom movie A Few Good Men was a chance for Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore and others to get their teeth into the meatiest of roles. The action in this stage version of the film, from Beam Theatre, centres on the trial of two US Marines charged with the death of one of their colleagues in Guantanimo Bay, Cuba, and how the internal affairs people try to get to the bottom of it. Was it a prank gone wrong or were the Marines following orders to get rid of a weakling? More importantly did the top brass not only cover the matter up but also engineer it?
The script is by Aaron Sorkin who went on to write TV’s The West Wing. The talk is fast back-and-forth with a great deal of gallows humour. The plot is given urgency in the light of Chelsea Manning’s recent presidential pardon and the stiffs with which President Trump has surrounded himself in the White House.
And, talking of stiff, the audience is seated on red, white and blue plastic swivel seats (a big ask for more than two hours) set in the centre of a tennis-court-sized space with the action taking place around the edge of the floor. To quote Mel Brooks this is not theatre-in-the-round but theatre-in-the-square – no one has a good seat. This imaginative configuration works well for the most part until the action moves to the other end of the room.
This tremendous play (and tremendously assured production) is essentially about lies and loyalty – the blind loyalty of the Marines to “unit, corps, God, country"; the old boy officers’ loyalty to each other and the lawyers’ loyalty to no one.
It’s a fast-moving script with a huge ensemble cast and it’s easy to get slightly lost in the welter of surnames and forget who is precisely who. But all the actors turn in terrific performances. Shout outs include Michael Davies as the cynical Kaffee and Abbye Eva as his pedantic, box ticking nemesis. (The American accents and intonations are flawless.) Director Andra Roston pulls off a fantastic job in keeping everything hurtling along and never missing a beat.