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Castle Hill Players production of Aaron Sorkin’s play A FEW GOOD MEN is a stunning start to their 2023 season. My two companions, one of whom knew the 1992 Academy Award nominated film of the same name well, and the other who came in with little knowledge of the story were, like me, engrossed from the start. The whole theatre is drawn in to the action of the play  as demonstrated on opening night with the audience not being able to resist verbally expressing their emotions towards the end of the court case. The play was inspired by actual events that took place at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in July 1986.

Sorkin’s gripping first half, set in and around the US base at Guantánamo Bay, deals with the death of a weakling marine Private William Santiago. Although Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Markinson, (Chris Scarpellino) requests that Santiago be transferred, Base Commander Colonel Nathan Jessup (Brendan McBride) instructs Lieutenant Jonathan James Kendrick, Santiago’s platoon commander, (Jono Burt) to “train” Santiago. Soon afterward, Santiago dies. He was murdered, and Marines Lance Corporal Harold Dawson (Toby Rowe) and Private First Class Louden Downey, (Hamish Ingersoll) will stand trial.

The suspicion is that they were acting under orders in administering a “code red”: the marines’ term for an internal disciplinary punishment. When they reject a plea bargain, in the belief they did no wrong, their case is pursued at a Washington court-martial by a Lieutenant Junior Grade Daniel Kaffee, (Dimitri Armatas) at first sight an inexperienced carefree Harvard lawyer and Lieutenant Comander Joanne Galloway, (Jacqui Wilson), an impassioned woman from the department of internal affairs, supported by Lieutenant J.G. Sam Weinberg (Jonathan Hartley).

The play focuses on the enclosed, self-protective world of the US and the marines’ private code of unquestioning loyalty to “unit, corps, God, country”. The second half explores the devastating consequences of this as the marines’ self-righteousness destroys any feeling of humanity or questioning about what might be truly ethical behaviour. There is a measure of sympathy for the guilty parties as we are reminded of the marines who are on the front line facing “4,000 Cubans who are trained to kill”.

Annette Van Roden’s excellent direction draws together this large, talented large and allows each character to express their particular perception of the situation. There is the arrogance and power of Brendan McBride, the terrifying viciousness of Jono Burt, the change of heart of Chris Scarpellino, the blind beliefs of Toby Rowe and Hamish Ingersoll and the humanity of Jonathan Hartley.

Outstanding in the main role is Dimitri Armatas whose character develops from an annoying smart lipped junior to an, oh so clever, warrior for the truth. His lines provide a great deal of humour to the dialogue so we do not get bogged down in the weight of the meaning of the play.

As his perfect foil is Jacqui Wilson who has to put up with her junior being in charge but comes to admire his skills as a lawyer.

In addition to these performances the rest of the ensemble heightes the tension and an understanding of life in the marines. Capt. Isaac Whitaker/Sgt at Arms: Steve Rowe, Lawyer/Orderly: Madhavi Shankarling, Tom/MP: Rod Bishop, Lt. Jack Ross/Dunn: Lachlan Armstrong, Hammaker/Cmdr. Walter Stone: Todd Beilby, Cpl. Jeffrey Owen Howard: Grant Brennan and Capt. Julius Alexander Randolph: Emmanuel Said.

The clever multi set design by Abby Bishop effectively allows the action to flow quickly from one location to another with just a change in lighting (lightning design Mehran Mortezai) and sound (sound design Annette Van Roden).

In a powerful and moving exposition the play explores and exposes what it means to truly be a “good man” in the United States Military. Don’t miss this exceptional play on at Pavilion Theatre, Doran Drive Castle Hill till 25 February 2023.

Production photos: Chris Lundie