28 April to 3 May 2014
Reviewed by Tammy Linsell
This unique play by Welsh poet and playwright Owen Sheers came about when just over four years ago, producer Alice Driver came up with the idea of creating a theatre project for wounded, injured and sick Service personnel. Her aim was to produce a play based on soldiers’ experiences and it began life as collaboration between the Theatre Royal Haymarket Masterclass Trust, The Royal British Legion and the Defence Recovery Capability. It was so well received that the Royal British Legion funded a tour of the play in 2012. It was spotted by producers Garry McQuinn and Amanda Faber, and together with Alice Driver, Owen Sheers and director Stephen Rayne, this 2014 tour came to fruition.
The production has unearthed some talented actors, particularly when one considers that acting was not their first choice of career. Apart from a small handful of trained thespians all of the cast are wounded soldiers (some still serving) and this was a professional performance throughout.
The play opens with Lance Corporal Charlie Fowler (Cassidy Little) returning to consciousness from a morphine induced coma in Selly Oak hospital. He is in the indescribable hell of hallucination, screaming at the medics trying to save him and believing that he (along with his partner and mother) are all prisoners of war. We are taken through the stories of Charlie and his comrades, their dreams when they joined the armed forces, the pride of their families, the devastating injuries, the psychological impact and the recovery process. The humour is dark. In the recruitment office the prospective candidate says to the soldier at the desk, “You’ve got no legs mate.” The reply comes, “Well you’ve passed the observation test.”
What makes this play so wonderfully unique and believable is of course the fact that the cast are acting out many of their own experiences. Quite apart from the psychological scars of war, most have suffered life changing injuries in particular the loss of limbs. They are not simply up on stage spouting a script, they’re the real deal and they know what they’re talking about.
The performance contained some original songs and music, beautifully sung, particularly by Lance Corporal Simmi Yates (Maurillia Simpson). The choreography for the dance routine in the rehabilitation centre was very simple but very effective.
All of the acting was of a high standard and I’m reluctant to single anyone out, but I was particularly impressed with Dan Shaw who played Rifleman Leroy Jenkins. The programme notes tell me that Dan lost both of his legs in an IED explosion in Afghanistan in 2009. He relives the experience of being blown apart (not just physically) with effectiveness and poignancy. The notes also tell me that he is to pursue a full time career in acting; I think this is a wise decision.
Mention must be given to the Lighting and Projection Designer William Reynolds, and Sound Designer Colin Pink for the excellent special effects, specifically the bomb blasts.
At the end of the performance the cast received a well deserved standing ovation, and I feel that this 2014 tour may well be back in the future by popular demand.
There is a lot of swearing in the play and I would think twice about taking a child, though there were one or two youngsters in the audience.
The Theatre Royal is the jewel in Newcastle’s crown, a beautiful old theatre first opened in 1837 and recently restored to pristine condition with friendly staff.
There is a multi story car park in Dean Street, about a five minute walk away. However street parking is free after 6.30pm and my advice would be to arrive at about 6pm and pay for half an hours meter parking on Grey Street just by the theatre. This will cost you £1 until the meters cease running, and there are numerous places to eat while you wait for the show to begin. Many of the local restaurants do theatre deals on production of your tickets. Alternatively the Eldon Square bus station (also a five minute walk) serves most areas of the region until after 11pm.
I would rate this play as a definite 5. £10 tickets are available for military personnel, veterans and their families, apart from on Saturday May 3rd. I’d urge them to take advantage of the offer.
Tickets cost from £9 (plus £1.45 online / £1.95 telephone booking fee).
For more details or to book tickets click here or call the box office on 08448 112121.
Theatre Royal, 100 Grey St, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 6BR | 08448 112121