The Space welcomes the team from the Soldiers’ Arts Academy to perform a festival of new writing. The event is a cumulation of work from around the globe exploring the theme of military.
Through a series of five, ten minute plays the audience gain an intimate insight into the lives, minds and hearts of people affected by the military. This personal connection elicits earnest writing. The plays explore aspects of the military that may go unspoken or ignored by the public. The topics are challenging – covering themes of homelessness, abortion and grief. The writers aren’t afraid to be open, direct and truthful in their exploration of these topics; an effective way to represent the reality of life for people directly affected by war. The writers approaches are similar in this sense and in their naturalistic style which makes a cohesive set of plays.
To open Soldier Tales, a homeless veteran relives the trauma of his army service from the top of a car park in Cry for Help by Kevin Hanbury. Tip Cullen performs as the lead with conviction. Upon his entrance to the space and we immediately get a sense of character and place. Cullen is a fully embodied actor who works successfully with the text and space to create a believable and emotional performance. He clearly has an authentic connection to the material and his commitment throughout the plays is a highlight of the event.
Discharged by Claire Hughes entails another notable performance by Lily Howkins. Hughes writes about a young combat medical technician facing the imminent risk of being discharged from the Army. Howkins’ character is in a place of grief due to the death of her boyfriend and she tells this story with clarity and humanity.
The other plays that are part of the programme are Emergency Leave by Elaine Little that explores a crisis point for a young US Army Reservist who is about to be deployed to Iraq. Unexpectedly, the sisters in the play connect over their experiences with abortion. Take Care of the Yellow Cards by Paulo Gonçalves, set during the war in former Yugoslavia in 1995 in Zagreb. It is about an explosion leading to the devastating death of an interpreter travelling with UN military personnel on a vehicle patrol. The actors work with movement to communicate this trauma which is an interesting section to the collection of the plays. Linda Spencer’s I’m Switching Off Now centres on a family’s grief in a heart breaking story about a Royal Marine on active service in Afghanistan. Collectively the plays tell a compelling story about personal experiences.
Core to the Soldiers’ Arts Academy is creating opportunities for serving and veteran military personnel and their families in the creative arts. They write “The Soldiers’ Arts Academy is a not for profit organisation which gives serving and former military personnel a route into the arts. It may be part of a recovery process; it may provide training for a step into a new industry; or it may simply be there to help support the transition into civilian life. Working closely with actors, directors, producers, dancers, writers, poets and artists the SAA creates opportunities for participants to fulfil their artistic potential.”
Clearly vital work is being done by Soldiers’ Arts Academy. It is moving watch their performances full of heart and bravery.