Veterans Day – Finborough Theatre, London

Writer: Donald Freed
Director: Hannah Boland Moore
Reviewer: Ann Bawtree

Veterans Day is a play for those who like their drama hot and strong. Running straight through for an hour and a half, it demands concentration from the audience and fortitude from the three actors who are on stage and, at the Finborough, at close quarters the whole time.

tell-us-block_editedPredictably from the title, all three characters are veterans of different war situations and in their own ways, suffer psychological damage. They are together in a veterans’ hospital and play against a backdrop of torn, bloodied sheeting. It is the day that an unspecified ceremony is to take place.

The eldest character, Private Leslie Holloway, (played by Roger Braban) slumps, semi-comatose, in a wheelchair. He is “entertained” by Sergeant John MacCormick Butts (Craig Pinder) who bounces around in an annoyingly jolly manner, playing the tunes so evocative of war. Keep the Home Fires Burning is followed by Over There, Tipperary, and many more including a passing reference to “crossing over into camp ground” and thus including the American Civil War.

Enter an impressive figure, a US Army Colonel, Walter Kercelik (Charlie De Bromhead). Tall, elegant, the all-American boy, in his best uniform, he contrasts strikingly with the irritating MacCormick and the tragic Holloway. He, who was dragged from his peaceful farm boy life in the mid-west to the trenches of northern France, now sits silent in ancient khaki. They are connected only by their suffering which is a consequence of their wartime experiences in the two World Wars and in Vietnam.

On the basis that all their ills can be laid at the doorstep of their Commander in Chief, in other words, the President, there is a cock-eyed plan to assassinate him when he arrives for the ceremony. After all, it was he who sent them to war in the first place, wasn’t it?

While the illnesses borne by these characters could now be treated, because post-traumatic stress is a recognised medical condition, there are those who have fallen through the net. There are still survivors of what has previously been labelled “shell shock”, “battle fatigue” or even the 19th Century description “irritable heart” and these sufferers deserve sympathetic care.

Runs until 24 January 2017  on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday | Image: Scott Rylander

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