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Two Halves Become Almost Whole in Sandi Toksvig’s Moving “Bully Boy”

“Maybe soldiers don’t really want to kill anyone.” That’s a theory posited by Major Oscar Hadley (Gregor McElvogue), a soldier badly injured as a result of his service in the Falklands War, at the beginning of Sandi Toksvig’s moving play “Bully Boy,” onstage now at Common Ground Theatre and presented by Common Wealth Endeavors. The smooth, conversational monologue rolls easily off of Hadley’s tongue but conveys deep impact, as does the rest of this 90 minute show, directed by Kari Barclay and performed without an intermission in CGT’s intimate black-box setting.


Not long after being introduced to Hadley, viewers meet Private Eddie Clark (Justin Brent Johnson). The young man has been accused of killing an even younger boy in a violent way, and it’s up to Hadley to oversee and investigate the charges. While the dynamic between the pair is, at first, explosive, a series of unexpected events unfolds, causing the two to develop an unlikely bond.

Justin Brent Johnson as EDDIE (L), Gregor McElvogue as OSCAR (R)

Justin Brent Johnson as EDDIE (L), Gregor McElvogue as OSCAR (R)

McElvogue and Johnson share an easy, natural chemistry that makes the relationship between the two believable, and Toksvig’s dialogue and pacing also aid in the veracity of the budding relationship. As the tense story unfolds, viewers become acutely aware of the permanent, often unseen, but deeply felt “scars of battle” that each of the men must deal with. They are, as revealed by a poignant scene in the play, each “half a man,” and yet, when they come together, they resemble something close to a whole.

Though the subject matter is serious and heavy, there are funny moments here, often underscored by their own brand of poignancy- McElvogue handles these “deep humor” scenes particularly well, taking the viewer from laughter to tears with barely a beat in between. Similarly, Johnson proves skilled at these types of emotional bait-and-switches as well. He can go from fiery, frightening anger to eerily childlike vulnerability at the drop of a hat.

Barclay’s tight direction, as well as the simple lighting and almost-bare stage keep the focus on this strong story and the even stronger characters. While there are no happy, facile endings here, “Bully Boy” does deliver a powerful message that needs to be heard. Furthermore, it acquaints viewers with two unforgettable characters and provides just the smallest bit of hope for misguided humanity. That alone makes it worth a watch.

Common Wealth Endeavors LLC presents BULLY BOY at 8 p.m. June 14, 3 p.m. June 15, 8 p.m. June 19-21, 3 p.m. June 22, and 8 p.m. June 26-28 at Common Ground Theatre, 4815B Hillsborough Rd., Durham, North Carolina 27705.

TICKETS: $15 (students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel).

BOX OFFICE: 919-410-8631,, or

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Bully Boy (2011 play): (Nick Hern Books page) and (Wikipedia).

Sandra Brigitte “Sandi” Toksvig, OBE (Danish-born British playwright): ( The Playwrights Database ) and

Kari Barclay (Durham, NC director): (Facebook page).


Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click To read more of her writings, click and

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Lead Story, Reviews