Writer: Jenny Stephens
Director: Steve Ball
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Kate Mulligan, a born-and-bred Brummie, is a Combat Medical Technician serving in Afghanistan. Following a misunderstanding with a colleague, both are injured. She is repatriated to Birmingham, full of pain from her relatively minor injury and guilt as her colleague’s life hangs in the balance.
Alfie Seddon, a born-and-bred Brummie, is a soldier in the First World War. He has been blinded in the trenches and, wracked with guilt, is repatriated to Birmingham. Although nearly a century apart in time, Alfie and Kate become aware they are in the same room, are able to communicate and eventually help each other to cope with their experiences.
So are we seeing two soldiers seeing one another through a weakening of the veil of space and time, or is one of them suffering from an overactive imagination and shellshock or post-traumatic stress disorder? That’s never made completely clear, but the device is effective in exploring, comparing and contrasting the two soldiers’ experiences as they cope with the aftermath of their injuries.
At first, the writing is somewhat laboured as the dialogue from the two eras is dovetailed and the two protagonists gradually become aware of the other’s presence. This section, in common with others in which dialogue from the two eras is interwoven, is slow moving and rather flat. However, as the action moves on, and especially as we, and Ruth, observe Alfie’s story in flashback, the depth of performance increases markedly and we become more and more bound up in the two soldiers’ stories. The scenes between the two of them are simultaneously powerful and poignant. Some of Alfie’s reflective monologues are really quite lyrical and reminiscent of some of the fine poetry of that conflict.
Ben Callon plays Alfie with sincerity but his accent is rather more RP than Birmingham. Nevertheless, as his story unfolds, he becomes evermore sympathetic as he deals with his conflicting, potentially destructive emotions. As Kate, Emma Rollason has a most mobile and expressive face, though her vocal repertoire is more limited. The remaining cast members all play multiple rôles; especially effective is the scene set in an Ypres foxhole with Daniel Anderson as the severely injured Connor, and John Flitcroft as Lucky George, the ebullient stretcher bearer, who helps give Alfie hope and, later, restores his self-esteem.
This production, supported by a Wellcome Trust Arts Award, is staged in a genuine Territorial Field Hospital, with its sterile, whitewashed walls, dressed with simple drapes. Paul Burgess’ minimal set is demarcated by the two period hospital beds. Lighting is simple, and sound and projection are used effectively for illustration of the soldiers’ traumatic experiences.
While this does not consistently hit the mark – the script could use some tightening and culling of repetition and the pace could occasionally be ramped up a notch – it is nevertheless a well-produced and thought provoking piece on war, guilt and trauma, and worth seeing.
Runs until 10th November