Events While Guarding The Bofors Gun

by John McGrath

22 May - 6 June 2012

"It is an inefficient and obsolete weapon, sirs, of which our Army has many thousands: and you have, in your wisdom, asked me to guard it with my life, thinking that I would indeed do anything, anything, to preserve and shelter from all harm, a thing so beautifully useless, so poignantly past it, so wistfully outdated, as my youth, or a Bofors gun. I would, and I shall, lay down my life for it."

The first London production in over 45 years


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★★★★★ Five Stars, The Guardian
★★★★★ Five Stars, WhatsOnStage
★★★★ Four Stars, One Stop Arts
★★★★ Four Stars, Exeunt Magazine
★★★★ Four Stars, Fulham Chronicle

Commemorating the tenth anniversary of the death of playwright John McGrath, and unseen in a professional production in London since 1966…

Germany, 1954. A bitterly cold winter in the early years of the Cold War. In a wind-swept corner of a British Army base, six soldiers are posted to guard an obsolete anti-aircraft gun. Their task is futile and the gunners know it. Placed under the command of an inexperienced teenager, their boredom turns to frustration and their thoughts turn to trouble as the banter and squabbles of the barrack room harden into a battle of wills between a callow NCO who just wants to serve out his time and a disillusioned fighting man with his finger on the self-destruct button…

Directed by acclaimed new emerging director Robert Hastie, John McGrath’s startling, darkly comic depiction of young men coming to terms with a new, inhuman era of warfare is based on his own experience of National Service in the 1950s. Originally produced at Hampstead Theatre in 1966 with a cast including James Bolam, Barry Jackson and Brian Murphy, Events While Guarding The Bofors Gun was filmed in 1968 by Jack Gold as The Bofors Gun, starring David Warner, Ian Holm, Nicol Williamson and John Thaw.

About The Playwright John McGrath

Playwright John McGrath (1935-2002) was a prolific writer best known for his work with the 7:84 Theatre Company and for his extraordinary commitment to the importance of popular theatre. Born in Liverpool and raised in Wales, his writing career began at the BBC, where he wrote and directed many of the early episodes of Z Cars He continued to work in television and film throughout his career including writing the screenplay for the films Billion Dollar Brain (1967) and The Bofors Gun (1968) , but his chief passion was for the theatre. In 1971, he founded 7:84 Theatre Company, deriving its name from the statistic that 7% of the UK population own 84% of the wealth, dedicated to taking popular, political theatre far and wide, particularly to towns and villages usually considered to be off the cultural map, and often presenting plays specially written for the company by McGrath. His plays include Random Happenings in the Hebrides (1970), The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil (1973, and subsequently televised), Fish in the Sea (1972), The Game's A Bogey (1974), Little Red Hen (1975), Yobbo Nowt (1975), Out of Our Heads (1976), Joe's Drum (1979), Blood Red Roses (1980), Mairi Mhor (1985, and subsequently televised), Border Warfare (1989), Watching for Dolphins (1992) and Hyperlynx (2001). He also wrote two seminal books on popular political theatre – A Good Night Out: Popular Theatre: Audience, Class and Form (1981) and The Bone Won't Break: On Theatre and Hope in Hard Times (1990). He received Lifetime Achievement Awards form both BAFTA and the Writers Guild of Great Britain, and Honorary Doctorates form the University of Stirling and the University of London. John McGrath died in 2002. Michael Billington wrote in his obituary: “No one since Joan Littlewood did more to advance the cause of popular theatre in Britain than John McGrath”.

About The Director Robert Hastie

Director Robert Hastie was Associate Director for Sixty-Six Books which opened the new Bush Theatre where he also directed the world premieres of In The Land of Uz by Neil LaBute, The Middle Man by Anthony Weigh, David and Goliath by Andrew Motion, Snow In Sheffield by Helen Mort and A Lost Expression by Luke Kennard. He was Associate Director of Much Ado About Nothing starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate (Novello Theatre). He co-founded The Lamb Players, for whom he has co-directed As You Like It and The Merchant of Venice. He has assisted Josie Rourke, Peter Gill and Laurie Sansom, and is an Associate Artist of the National Youth Theatre and a Connections Director for the National Theatre Connections programme. Robert originally trained as an actor at RADA, and his acting credits include work at the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company, with Cheek By Jowl, Frantic Assembly and Headlong, and in the West End.

The Press on Events While Guarding The Bofors Gun

“The production is as good as anything you will find in London theatre.” Michael Billington, The Guardian

“This served as my first visit to the Finborough and I can’t wait to return if this is the quality of their productions. Engaging, ambiguous, intelligent, and bold are the words that come to mind to describe this play. Go and see it, not only because it’s great but because in this cast we are privileged to be seeing some true stars of the future.” Colin Appleby, Bargain Theatre

“As ever, one leaves the Finborough wondering how its rediscoveries could have been left gathering dust for so long”. Sarah Penny, Exeunt

“It is 10 years since the playwright John McGrath died; 46 since this play was last seen in London. Both the man and his work are honoured in this superb revival by Robert Hastie” Michael Billington, The Guardian

“The Finborough - which has admirable form in reviving the often neglected work of left-leaning 20th-century dramatists - the opportunity to see a well-performed, well-directed staging of a McGrath play should not be wasted.” Ciaran Bermingham, Morning Star

“A thrilling evening at the theatre” Colin Appleby, Bargain Theatre

“An earthy, scathing play about the futility of imperialist ambitions in the postwar era, 'Events…' has aged well: minor cosmetic tweaks could easily relocate it to present Afghanistan.” Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out

“Profoundly affecting”. Sarah Penny, Exeunt

“Exceedingly chilling like the icy wind that blows through the military base, this production makes your blood run cold.” Carolin Kopplin, UK Theatre Network

“Seething tension...For a play first performed more than 40 years ago, Events Whilst Guarding the Bofors Gun still maintains an almost frightening intensity, strong enough to unsettle even today’s audiences.” Rebecca Hussien, A Younger Theatre

“Prolific, impassioned and wonderfully eclectic, the late John McGrath (he was one of the key writers on 'Z-Cars'!) deserves modern reappraisal just as much as his peers Arnold Wesker and Edward Bond.” Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out

“And it's salutary to be reminded that McGrath was one of our finest postwar political dramatists.” Michael Billington, The Guardian

“Ten years after McGrath's death and over 45 years since this play was last seen in London this is a worthwhile revival. I hope it we may see more of his plays brought to life again in the near future.” Howard Loxton, British Theatre Guide

“A must-see...Combines seamlessly a grittiness, rawness, plus a leavening humour, borne from real-life experience, and a state-of-the-nation play: A sort of Journey’s End for post-imperial conscription Britain” Traffic Light Theatregoer

“The men wrestle with their confined space like animals in a cage, the raw masculine energy constantly threatening to spill over into the audience.” Rebecca Hussien, A Younger Theatre

“The cast is outstanding” Rebecca Hussien, A Younger Theatre

“A uniformly strong cast matched by clever, under-stated but resonant design, lighting, sound effects and staging.” Traffic Light Theatregoer Blog

“The cast is excellent throughout” Carolin Kopplin, UK Theatre Network

“Exceptionally well performed” Chris Hislop, One Stop Arts

“The actors are all brilliant, bar none” Chris Hislop, One Stop Arts

“Charles Aitken conveys a combination of Irish intellectualism – McGrath had a keen ear for the phrasing and cadence of the accent – and unnerving aggression.” Sarah Penny, Exeunt

“Played with incredible intensity by Charles Aitken.” Natasha Tripney, The Stage

“A bravura performance from Charles Aitken, both frightening and touching” Howard Loxton, British Theatre Guide

“Charles Aitken as the stricken solider is both terrifying and beguiling, an utter force of nature” Rebecca Hussien, A Younger Theatre

“Charles Aitken is outstanding as the deeply troubled Gunner O’Rourke” Carolin Kopplin, UK Theatre Network

“Charles Aitken is simply incredible as the passionate madman, managing to portray a man who's lost the will to live, whose bitterness has led him to violent action. It's a meaty part and Aitken is wonderful to watch” Chris Hislop, One Stop Arts

“A tour de force performance by the mesmerising and powerful Charles Aitken” Colin Appleby, Bargain Theatre

“Charles Aitken brilliantly invests O'Rourke with a mix of fierce intelligence, sardonic humour and wild self-destructiveness.” Michael Billington, The Guardian

“Phil Cheadle as a bitter Ulsterman and Michael Shelford as a narcoleptic west countryman also stand out” Michael Billington, The Guardian

“Lee Armstrong nicely conveys Evans's fumbling naivety” Michael Billington, The Guardian

“Lee Armstrong is touchingly awkward as the young officer” Natasha Tripney, The Stage

“Michael Shelford as Gunner superb.” Sarah Penny, Exeunt

“A sterling production directed by Robert Hastie” Traffic Light Theatregoer Blog

“The set design is sublime - turning a small theatre in the hottest week of the year into a wide, open gun platform in the middle of a blizzard is a work of art, and James Perkins' hinted addition of painted girders (with the shadows, but not the actual girders, painted onto the walls) is very striking indeed” Chris Hislop, One Stop Arts

The Press on The Original Production of Events While Guarding The Bofors Gun

"The play is written with cold wrath and a biting funniness." The Observer

"Shattering and sublime." The Sunday Times

"A compelling and forceful drama of barrack room life." Variety

"Warmly lit with humour and compassion." The Scotsman

"A piece of writing to be respected: for the depth and truth of its characters, for the riveting power of its dialogue, for its pungent humour and for the fierce dramatic tension...I should hate to think - and cannot believe - that this will be the last we shall hear of it." What's On In London

The Press on The Playwright John McGrath

“A decisive influence on late twentieth century theatre.” The Independent

“He had an ungovernable faith in theatre and its capacity to change people’s lives.” The Guardian

"A superb example of the way the stage can be used simultaneously for pleasure and political polemic" The Glasgow Herald on The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil

"As slanted as a mountain top and as exhilarating as sking down it. And with enough faith and malice to move a mountain. I hope." The Guardian on The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil

“That relatively rare item, a necessary piece of theatre.” The Guardian on Hyperlynx

“Never forgets to be entertainment.” The Telegraph on Yobbo Nowt

“Irresistible.” The Financial Times on The Game’s A Bogey

22 May - 6 June 2012

Tickets and Times

Tuesday 7:30pm
Wednesday 7:30pm
Thursday 7:30pm
Friday 7:30pm
Saturday 3:00pm (from the second week of the run)
Sunday 3:00pm