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Park Theatre 90
“I sign up for the front line and come back with an acronym,” the confused, angry young man shouts at his therapist, who has just told him he has PTSD.
The therapist — all vulnerable intelligence, struggling with a difficult case (a fine nuanced performance from Sophie Couch) — carries the play’s strong sub-theme on the therapeutic process, and what it takes to make a traumatised young working-class man open up about his symptoms.
There is a personal dimension to this work — as it’s based on co-writer and lead actor Taz Syklar’s best friend.
As Skylar (one to watch) states in the press release: “Boys and girls are old enough to go to war, but not old enough to play Call of Duty … old enough to shoot guns but not to drink a beer.” And vote of course.
The story is told in split but not chronological time. We learn of 19-year-old Miles’s attraction to the army (a sense of belonging he can’t find in austerity Britain) meeting his girlfriend Tena, the horrific events in Afghanistan, the effect on his relationships, and his therapy sessions.
He scares Tena and best friend Mory with his paranoid fantasies: believing a local pizza seller is a terrorist, and that Tena and Mory (Klariza Clayton and Hassan Najib, both excellent) are having an affair.
And so, another trauma takes root, and there’s a particularly harrowing scene as the captain forces an intimate sympathy hug on him, before making Mory do it. It has the feel of serial emotional rape.
He scares the therapist too in making her worry that she will never get this “lost boy” to open up, and we soon realise that this isn’t just a matter of professional pride, but that she really does care what happens to him.
Such intense subject matter needs comedic moments to help an audience process it, and these are provided by army captain Deeks (Craig Fairbrass) and Tembe, Tena’s adopted brother, played with camp mercurial charm by Joseph Connolly who delivers some great lines: “What real war? Like in Mad Max?”
In one ferocious argument with Miles, he puts him right on what manhood is all about.
Theatre itself requires a suspension of reality, but here we are lured into the meta-suspension of post-traumatic stress disorder; and the cast and production team have worked with Eden Orfanos-Shoro, an art psychotherapist who has treated many sufferers.
Directed by Toby Clarke, this is fine physical theatre, with great timing and sync between lighting, wooden crates, sound and acting, with bursts of Fleetwood Mac.
The play is quite a journey, (although was a problem at times with audibility, and some lines were delivered too frenetically) but does deliver an emotionally satisfying outcome.
There is no overt anti-war polemic — it doesn’t need any — but presents the case against through the inflamed mind of a young man, all his future before him, who has been used as a commodity of war.
As RD Laing might have said about PTSD, it’s a natural response to an unnatural situation.
Until September 7 2019. www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/warheads.
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