Writer: Owen Sheers
Director: Stephen Rayne
Reviewer: Pete Benson
The dimly lit set is sparse, a simple screen. The sound of a helicopter roars above our heads. Then all hell is let loose, loud explosions and a blinding flash and on the screen is projected the shadow of an injured soldier in a hospital bed. He is violent, paranoid and hallucinating. He is Charlie Fowler a soldier who has survived an IED explosion. The interesting thing is that Charlie is played by actor Cassidy Little who has himself survived an IED explosion.
No longer a shadow on a screen, Charlie F is left kneeling on the stage. There is a little of the stand-up comedian about him as he tells us about his life interspersed with some unusual military history. Interestingly Little had a stint as a stand-up comic and is also a trained actor as well as a soldier. It were as if he were forged in a crucible to play this rôle.
Over half of this cast are made up of soldiers who have received serious injury while serving their country. The script is based on the experiences of real soldiers. These two things give this show a feeling of raw honesty that is rare in the theatre.
We meet the other traumatically injured characters, their wives and girlfriends. We are given a lesson in the Afghan wars and a master class in combat injuries. A soldier strips off his full kit revealing a fine physical specimen and our lecturer proceeds with a marker pen to draw on his body multiple wounds, each more unimaginable and horrific than the last.
We hear Lance Corporal Simi Yates’ story or is it Lance Corporal Maurillia Simi Simpson’s story, the actor playing the rôle? She and trained actor Teri Ann Bobb-Baxter who plays the young Yates both give excellent performances with one particularly poignant scene between them as mother and daughter.
The play is punctuated with combat sequences done simply and yet so effectively. In the sliver of a moment a life is turned upside down. The show is also interspersed with fairly pedestrian music, song and occasional dance, clearly an attempt to give the piece a full range of entertainment value. Perhaps the song and dance jar a little, they seem to interrupt the flow of honest emotion or are they blessed relief from the harsh reality? The incidental music however heightens the emotion superbly.
The second half of the show deals more with the recovery and the devastating cascading effect the soldiers’ injuries have on their lives and those around them. Soldiers tell us directly of their mental health. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, all the stages of grief are here. Indeed this very show itself represents some form of final acceptance.
The cast blends seamlessly together giving a great ensemble performance with total commitment. The production has a primitive student feel about it and the slightly naïve performances not only add to the whole experience but also shed new light onto the polished veneer other productions work so hard to achieve.
The Two Worlds of Charlie F is almost a contemporary, modern warfare version of Oh What A Lovely War, a little darker, a little more psychological and personal and a lot more in your face. Often this piece is unsettling and uncomfortable. Sometimes it is laugh out loud funny and at its best it veers between light and dark in the blink of an eye. This production puts many other production in the shade in so many ways.
Runs until 15th March 2014