Thursday, June 20

Johnny Got His Gun – ZOO Southside

This timely monologue highlights the brutality of war through the story of one soldier. It exposes the dissonance between ideals like freedom and democracy, and the means we use to enforce them. The first world war is raging. Joe Bonham (Johannes Holopainen) lies on a hospital bed, his face covered with bandages, his body hidden by a bedsheet. He taps his head on a guitar.

Gradually, we understand that he is communicating in Morse code. Joe has a story to tell.

Joe pulls up his bandages to create a bandana, and suddenly is animated and moves freely and fiercely within the black box space, which represents his vibrant imagination. He uses his guitar as well as his voice and movement to express himself and interacts directly with members of the audience.

In contrast, the set is stark. Strip lights hang coldly on the wall, signalling Joe’s sensory deprivation. Seating surrounds the other three sides of the performance area.

Joe’s injuries isolate him from others: he has lost his arms, legs, ears, eyes and mouth. He recalls his life before the war, relives the day he was gunned down, and questions the values he once fought to uphold.

Holopainen is mesmerising throughout, his energy shifting from reflection to patriotic fervour to blistering rage. He captures the innocent idealism of this young man, and the wisdom he gains at such a great personal cost. He pleads with us to hear his story, and to learn from the mistakes of the past. At the end of the show Holopainen addresses us with his own Finnish accent, but Joe sounds authentically American.

I think I was sitting near a loudspeaker, and occasionally, the sound effects were louder than they should have been. Other than that, this show was enthralling, entertaining and very emotional at times.

The play is part of a showcase, From Start to Finnish, promoting Finnish performing arts. It is based on the anti-war novel by Dalton Trumbo, published at the outbreak of the second world war. As Finland prepares to enter NATO, the story is equally essential today. This is a call to all of humanity in the name of peace.

Running time – 60 mins. Playing until 28th August, click HERE for further information and tickets.

Reviewer: Greg Holstead

Reviewed: 10th August 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★