Caroline Bishop talks to the people behind two new plays which are laying bare the truth behind the news. The Two Worlds of Charlie F tackles the mental and physical wounds war inflicts, while Soldiers’ Wives looks at those left behind.
apper Lyndon Chatting-Walters was just 18 when he was thrown 60ft from his vehicle by a Taliban bomb in Afghanistan, breaking his back in four places. Some three years later, he was performing on a West End stage. On paper, these events couldn’t be further removed, but the show that put him on stage aimed to connect the two, bringing the stark reality of soldiers wounded in Afghanistan to audiences back home. The Two Worlds of Charlie F, which now plays at the Fringe, originated from an idea by Alice Driver, producer at Masterclass, a theatrical charity established by London’s Theatre Royal Haymarket. Experienced at using theatre as a tool to boost skills and confidence, Driver was inspired to use this model to help the recovery of wounded service personnel following a visit to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. “I was never really aware of how young these individuals were and what type of injuries they were going through,” she says. “Due to the advances of medicine, on the positive, loads more people are surviving. But on the other hand, the injuries they’ve got are far greater than have
ever been experienced before. I chatted to one guy who said when you become injured you become very vulnerable and you lose your sense of self. I just thought, well let’s use this theatre model as a way of aiding recovery.” She set in motion a project that was to culminate in two performances at London’s Theatre Royal Haymarket in January of a play not only based on the experiences
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Above, Below The Two Worlds of Charlie F
of wounded soldiers but starring them as well. The MOD had never previously used theatre to aid recovery, and convincing them wasn’t easy, says Driver. Having the support of the Royal British Legion and theatrical legend Trevor Nunn helped, as did the assurance that this was no amateur, community project but a professional production. Tactics were required, too, in order to recruit service personnel to take part in something the majority had no experience of. So Driver brought along hardman actor Ray Winstone to show the ‘cool’ side of theatre, a ploy that resulted in 30 soldiers—both men and women—volunteering for Bravo 22 Company, as the new theatre company would be called. It was the task of playwright Owen Sheers—author of last year’s The Passion in Port Talbot—to interview those soldiers and work their stories into a play that would “remain authentic to their voice and their experience,” he says, “but also to have a very unflinching gaze at what those three letters [war] mean.” For some, including Chatting-Walters, it was the first time they had shared their experiences with anyone outside the military. “He [Sheers] made me feel so comfortable and I completely opened up to him,” he says. “A lot of people ask you about it but you don’t feel as if they actually care. With Owen, he was so calm about everything, and he genuinely looked interested, he wanted to know.” Rehearsals were certainly interesting. “Medication became our biggest obstacle,” says Sheers with a wry laugh, citing those who would fall asleep due to the meds, or have short term memory issues. ChattingWalters was in “a lot of pain” for most rehearsals. But all that found its way into the play, as did physical limitations, which, Sheers said, weren’t limitations at all but “expansive”. A double amputee’s experience of physiotherapy became one of the show’s most powerful images.
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