Writer: Roz Wyllie
Director: Stephen Rayne
Reviewer: Pete Benson
Following on from the tremendous success of Bravo 22 Company’s Charlie F is this newly devised play, Contact. It is one of a series of regional projects telling the invisible military stories obscured behind the media version of service life. It is one part therapy, one part education, but mostly it is engaging theatre.
Contact is an intertwined telling of multiple stories based on the performers’ own experiences and shaped and ordered by writer Roz Wyllie under the direction of Charlie F director Stephen Rayne.
Lonely house wife Jessica, played by Helen Barrett, reveals the domestic side of army life as miles away from her husband she struggles to come to terms with her pregnancy. Her situation is perfectly summed up by a photographic backdrop of an identikit army accommodation framed through the window of her own house. She talks of her idealised ‘imaginary’ husband who appears as a ghostly figure on the backdrop. The story reveals how she and her husband have different dreams and desires. All she wants is a ‘forever home’ but without consulting her, he re-ups and ensures another decade of postings around the world.
Lynn Westhead tells Emily Wheldon’s emotional story in an understated monologue. It is brilliantly crafted and so well told by Westhead. She starts off with an upbeat tale of her love for the navy that frees her from mundane jobs and juvenile troubles. She very cleverly leads us by the hand into the darkness of alcohol abuse and suicide. Westhead achieves that thing actors strive for and often fall short off, a central core of truth in her performance.
Some of the funniest moments of the evening are supplied by Estelle Wilkinson’s teenage daughter of a long serving army dad. Her mother sees home life with a soon retired husband through rose tinted glasses while truths are revealed cleverly through the daughter’s text messages posted large as life on the backdrop. In a long distance video call daughter and father, played by Barry Garfoot, capture the uncomfortable emotional distance between them.
One of the most touching scenes is played out by Mark Baldwin and Stephen Staley. When Arfur Brown (Stayley) is traumatised by a commercial helicopter flying over the town square, angry man John (Baldwin) kneels with him, kisses him on the top of his head and sings to him. Just for a moment these two macho characters break our hearts.
In complete contrast is raw recruit Hannah played by Eleanor Cox. She is overwhelmingly excited about entering into the military. Mostly her story is told through a selfie video blog. Her naiveté and joy serve as an ominous, gnawing portent of history about to repeat itself. Is Hannah who these other characters once were, and are they who she will become?
A special mention must be made of Wayne Robinson who gives a moving performance of husband Eddie, an ex-serviceman so traumatised he sits in his old uniform playing shoot ‘em up games day in day out. He hunches over his games controller like a bomb liable to go off at any moment as his wife, played by Lisa Cox, tries to get him to talk to her. In a high point of dramatic tension he finally inarticulately tries to explain the unexplicable but despite the will the way fails him.
This is a strong genuinely engaging production with a touch of Mike Leigh about it. It is built around clear storytelling and for the most part a raw honest emotion which some of the more experience actors don’t quite achieve and so occasionally they feel a touch theatrical in contrast. Elliott Griggs’ lighting is simple but effective, quite an achievement in this small intimate space with audience on three sides. Contact deserves to have a life after this and be seen by large audiences. It certainly bodes well for the planned future projects.
Runs until 28th March