“The Long and the Short and the Tall” is an emotional tale about a British Patrol of seven, which is cut off from its base camp by the advancing threat of the Japanese. It takes place during 1942 and is set in the Malayan jungle. Throughout the play the different characters have to confront the hardships of war and ask themselves questions like, can they kill another human being? And are the enemy really any different to us? At first we see each character has their own distinct, special personality, the typical Scotsman, Welshman and Cockney.
However, as the play continues we see that they do not fit so easily into a specific group. There is more too them than their exteriors lead you to believe. The sergeant in charge of the platoon is Mithchem. He is an obvious leader, as the rest of the platoon seems to have respect for him and his decisions and acknowledge the authority he has over them. We can see this when Macleish and Bamforth are about to have a fight, but Mitchem quickly takes control of the situation, using the same sarcasm that Bamforth uses on others.
Don’t try and come the hard case with me, son. It doesn’t work” This is one of the most intense moments in the entire play. The reason for the fight is due to the extreme pressure and strain they under Then there is Bamforth. He is the lazy, troublemaker of the group. He really doesn’t want to be out here in the Malayan jungle risking life and limb, although given the choice neither would any of the men. If there is a fight going on, you can be sure that Bamforth will be at the heart of it. Jonhstone is Macleish’s second in command.
He is a character with no feeling and doesn’t possess any of the individual personalities that the other men do. Although he likes to think he is important, he doesn’t have half the skill needed to be in charge that Macleish has. We see this when he loses his temper with the Japanese hostage and rips up his photos. The tension rises yet again when they hear Japanese voices over the radio. “Johnee! … Johnee! … British Johnee! We – you – come – to – get” The most important part of the play, however, was when they captured a lone Japanese soldier.
However, this just seemed to create more problems and harsh decisions for them. Macleish, at first, was the person who managed to persuade everyone not to kill the Japanese soldier. After all, he is a human being just like the rest of us. This becomes even more apparent when he talks about his family back home and shows them pictures of them. They then see another side to the enemy they have been trying to kill so badly. He was a prisoner of war and could not be killed due to the Geneva Convention. So Bamforth was put in charge of looking after him.
After a little bit of teasing from Bamforth, they eventually become very close, sharing cigarettes and spending long periods of time trying to communicate with each other. Unfortunately tension builds between the Japanese soldier and the other patrol members. It finally leads to a clash between Bamforth and Mitchem over a packet of cigarettes. Mitchem accuses the Japanese soldier of looting the cigarettes from a British soldier. Bamforth however, quickly dismisses these accusations and tells them that he gave the cigarettes to the soldier himself.
Mitchem then reluctantly agreed that maybe he had given them to the soldier. Eventually an event occurred that Bamforth could not take the blame for. The patrol found a British Army issue cigarette case on him. This builds up into a big argument amongst the patrol. What should be done with him? The Japanese soldier advanced towards Whitaker begging for his life. Eventually after a big argument, the scared Private Whitaker kills the Japanese soldier. This shows that even the very enemy you are trying to kill can become your friend if you become close.
After all, he is just another human being right? It is very ironic that it is Whitaker who is the one that ends up killing the soldier. This is because throughout the play we see him as the quietest, gentlest member of the patrol. He is the kind of person that doesn’t want to upset anyone. In conclusion I would say that this is a very successful play in delivering the real messages of war that we perhaps don’t always think about. It shows how both sides can be exactly the same, even if they’re fighting for completely different things; a human being is a human being.