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Events while Guarding the Bofors Gun

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A: John McGrath Pf: 1966, London Pb: 1966 G: Drama in 2 acts S: Gun-park in British Zone, Germany, 1954 C: 11mLance-Bombardier Terry Evans is at 18 ‘a nice boy, trying hard to be liked, but not really succeeding’, in charge of six tough older gunners during his National Service. Their task is to guard an obsolete Bofors gun. Amongst the men, there are two particularly hard cases: Featherstone, ‘a rough Cockney…and a large poxy man’, and O'Rourke, ‘an Irish bandit with a terrifying death-wish’. While the men joke obscenely and aggressively, Evans announces that he is returning home the next day for an Officer Selection Board. Rather weakly, Evans allows Featherstone and O'Rourke to go to the Navy, Army, and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI) for cigarettes shortly before they are to do their turn of guard duty. O'Rourke gets drunk and smashes up the NAAFI, but Evans is too irresolute to put him on a charge. Sergeant Walker orders the guard out to find most of them missing. Still covering for his absent men, Evans lies to Walker. Flynn, the oldest gunner, then insists that Evans must choose between supporting army discipline and becoming a rebel himself; he cannot sit on the fence any longer in a feeble attempt to be popular. Eventually, Featherstone drags O'Rourke back to the guard hut, and they are sent out on sentry duty. Finally, O'Rourke falls on his bayonet, and Evans is desperate when he realizes that he now has no chance of going home.

A: John McGrath Pf: 1966, London Pb: 1966 G: Drama in 2 acts S: Gun-park in British Zone, Germany, 1954 C: 11m

Based on his own experiences during National Service, McGrath here explores the futile discipline and hierarchical structures of the British army, which can stand as a metaphor for any similar organization (as in Wesker's Chips with Everything). The focus is on Evans, attempting to be one of the men but failing miserably. Naturalistic in style, apart from O'Rourke's direct address to the audience, this is a better structured and more carefully written piece than some of his later agitprop work for the 7:84 Theatre Company.

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John McGrath (1935—2002) playwright and director