The play is set in an abandoned mining hut in the Malayan jungle in 1942 during the Second World War. The Japanese are advancing upon British controlled Singapore. This play focuses on a small British patrol group who were sent north into the jungle to check for signs of Japanese advance. The patrol consists of seven soldiers from different parts of Britain. Leading them are Sergeant Mitchem and Corporal Johnstone. These two highly experienced and well trained soldiers have very different views on war and its workings.
The other soldiers in the group are not as capable or well trained as Mitchem or Johnstone; they have not experienced the cruel, harsh reality of war. The group consists of Evans, Macliesh, Whitaker, Mitchem, Bamforth, Smith and Johnstone. Evans is a straightforward, simple Welshman who loves and misses his homeland; he looks up to and admires Bamforth for his quick wit and self confidence. Macleish is a kind, caring Scotsman who worries about his brother Donald that has been sent north.
Macleish takes life quite seriously and can be strict when he has to be. Whitaker is the youngest of the group; he is a nai?? ve Tynesider who has no experience of war, he sees Smith as a father figure and a person he can look up to for comfort. He likes to be in the authorities good books and prepares for kit inspections; he is scared to have anyone in his patrol dislike him so he denies his Japanese souvenir collection that he keeps in his locker.
Mitchem is a highly trained and very professional soldier who thinks that his job ‘stinks’ and hates making the big decisions though he feels that he must do what is best for his men. Bamforth is a loud mouthed cockney who is constantly expressing his attitudes and opinions to the rest of his group; he is very cynical and has a strong dislike for authority. Smith is the most mature of the patrol; he has a family back in Lancashire whom he misses greatly. Smith tends to keep to himself and does not to get involved in any arguments or disputes with anyone in the rest of the patrol.
Johnstone is a very good and productive soldier; the other men tend to dislike him because he is a natural bully who likes to push people around, at the end of the play Johnstone makes out to be a coward by surrendering and giving in to the enemy. Surrendering would have been expected by a young and inexperienced soldier such as Whitaker but certainly not by an experienced and cocky soldier like Johnstone. This proves the fact that the real cowards in life are in fact the bullies themselves.
Willis Hall uses the costumes, setting, properties and sound effects to create a sense of mood and atmosphere that brings out the differences between the characters and their relationships with one another. He portrays Bamforth as the lazy, scruffy character who does not care what others think of him, whereas at the other end of the scale there is Whitaker, a young and timid character who always tries to get in authority’s good books by always following orders and preparing for kit inspections.
Bamforth is in many ways the type of character who the audience can have few sympathies for, right up until the end of the play where the alternative, more humane, side of him is revealed. The setting of the play is very important, as it is set in an abandoned mining hut in the Malayan jungle that has been completely stripped apart from two chairs and a table whereas if it was set in a Malaysian persons jungle mansion with sofas and air conditioning it would not give the feeling of war, danger and insecurity that the confines of the hut conveys to the audience very well.
The tension of the play is noticeable at the beginning of act one, when Bamforth’s argument with Macleish almost ends in a fight. The tension increases more when the voices are heard on the radio. At the end of act one the tension furthermore mounts with the capture of the Japanese soldier. The closeness of the hut gives the dramatic tension which is carried throughout the play; the audience can experience the level of the tension at the beginning of the second act through Whitakers response to the bird calling out.
The items such as the sten guns and the radio set are extremely important to the play. The radio is the most important property in the play, when the soldiers inadvertently pick up the Japanese signal it brings out their true characters. At the first sign of enemy contact Whitaker starts up in fear whereas Mitchem is unchanged. The whole patrol turns to and looks at the prisoner in shock and immediately blames him. All of the soldiers apart from Mitchem assume the worst.
The sounds in the play are not as important as the other aspects, yet they help you understand how the characters are feeling inside, for example at the beginning of act two Whitaker is sitting at the table cleaning his gun when a bird calls out and he jumps to his feet in shock, this shows us that the mood in the hut is very tense, it is almost as though they are waiting for the whole Japanese army to burst in, kill them and rescue the prisoner. The way Hall creates humour and a light hearted mood at the beginning of the play sets the scene for the climatic ending.
In act one the author is introducing the characters to us; we are able to see what kind of people each of them are and how they feel about each other, the relationships between the soldiers are obvious. The mood only changes when the Japanese soldier enters the play and the patrol become uneasy and tense. The Japanese soldier first enters the play when out of curiosity he approaches the hut that the soldiers are hiding in. He walks up to the window, looks in and sees that there is a radio on the table but does not realise what he sees so he continues on, suddenly he does a double take and realises that there is a the radio on the table.
When he walks through the door, the soldiers ambush and are going to kill him but none of them are able to kill another human being in cold blood apart from Bamforth who offers to do it and compares it to ‘carving up a pig’. Mitchem steps in and says that he wants the prisoner alive to take back to camp. Throughout the play the prisoner never speaks. He is essential to the play because without him nothing much would happen, the men would sit around arguing and then most likely head back to camp.
He also brings out the real people inside the soldiers; we are able to see how each of them feels about killing, the enemy, the Japanese and the orders of the leader. Bamforth attempts to teach the prisoner some English by saying nonsensical phrases such as ‘flingers on blonce’ and making gestures for him to place his fingers on his head, the prisoner slowly figures out that Bamforth is just playing and becomes happy to comply but he does not really have a choice as Mitchem will, ‘put the bayonet in him himself’ if he starts causing any trouble
The soldiers all have different attitudes to the prisoner at different times throughout the play. When Bamforth first offers to kill the prisoner he compares it to ‘carving up a pig’, when he gets to know him he says, ‘he’s almost human this one’ and at the end when they all want to kill the prisoner Bamforth exclaims, ‘he’s a man’. Bamforth has a stronger relationship with the prisoner than any other member of the patrol because they both have a lot in common.
Bamforth and the prisoner are both loners, and do not get on well with the rest of the patrol. Johnstone is a sadist who enjoys killing and bullying people to show his authority, he shows no exception to the prisoner. To him the prisoner is just a ‘bloody nip’ and not a real person. Mitchem does not want to kill the soldier though he feels as though he must to save the lives of his men, he believes that it is murder and that war brings out the worst in men.
Macleish does not want to kill the prisoner he is horrified and strongly believes in the Geneva Convention. Smith does not want to kill the prisoner but he feels that he would do it to save himself. Whitaker cannot bring himself to kill the prisoner with the bayonet but he would also do it to save himself. I feel as though Whitaker killed the prisoner in a panic because it was the first time that the prisoner had not followed their orders.
Bamforth does not want to kill the prisoner, to him the prisoner is a ‘man’ and not just a ‘bloody nip’ as Johnstone sees him. At the beginning of the play the audience’s response to the actions of Bamforth are very different to those at the end of the play. All of the soldiers faced the moral dilemma of what to do with the prisoner, but I feel that they would all rather kill him than risk their own lives. Mitchem says, “its all these lads or him” which shows that it’s better to end one life than risk seven lives.
We view the prisoner as the universal victim of war; the situation could be changed to suit any conflict, at any time anywhere. For example the scenario could be seven German soldiers keeping one British soldier captive or seven Vietnamese soldiers keeping one American soldier captive. It could also be said that the British soldiers are also victims of war because they have been drafted into the army and forced into a situation that most of them would rather not be in, as they were in regular jobs and had regular lives back in their home towns.
The soldiers’ questioning of the nature of war, killing and the enemy, and the questioning of their leader’s orders illustrates they do not entirely agree with why they are there, but they are bound by the duty to defend their country and each other. The prisoner’s clothes attract the soldier’s attention as he is wearing an ill-fitting uniform with a revolver and a string of grenades. The soldiers did not expect him to come as heavily armed.
They see that he is most likely a conscript like them who was sent out to fight for his country. As a member of the audience I pity the Japanese soldier because he is an ordinary man who is a victim of war. In conclusion I feel that the Japanese soldier, without meaning to, brings destruction and the end to all of their lives, though I do not feel that the prisoner is entirely responsible for their deaths because it was Whitaker’s fault that the prisoner entered the play in the first place.
If Whitaker had not left the radio set on the table the Japanese soldier may not have entered the hut, but even if he had it was Whitaker who panicked and shot the prisoner forcing them all to go out fight in the battle that killed them all. Another reason for them all dying was that they could not decide what to do with the prisoner. Bamforth sympathised with the prisoner as he realised that he is a ‘man’ whereas the rest of the patrol are following Mitchem’s orders to kill the prisoner, it could be argued that it was Bamforth’s fault that they all died. I do not feel that one individual can be blamed for what happened.