Press Launch: THE TWO WORLDS OF CHARLIE F.
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Thursday 21st November, 2013
Touring the country early next year is this play that started life as a ‘recovery project’ for injured soldiers, initially intended for only two performances back in 2011. After the success of those performances at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, a small-scale tour happened in 2012 including a sell-out stint in Edinburgh, but now it’s back reaching more venues and wider audiences.
Executive producer Alice Driver explains the genesis of the piece and tells how quickly luminaries like Trevor Nunn and Ray Winstone gave their support. The piece began with wounded military personnel flown back from Afghanistan to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. The MoD, Driver says, traditionally use things like sport to restore confidence, self-esteem and sense of purpose in the survivors of terrible injuries, but she saw an opportunity to use theatre for that same end and to give these men and women a voice. She approached the Royal British Legion for funding and eventually, the MoD warmed to the idea.
Rehearsals began in Brixton in November 2011 – already the BBC was interested and sent along a documentary filmmaker to record what became an edition of BBC One’s Imagine strand.
Actor Cassidy Little, who lost a leg that year in Afghanistan, followed up a suggestion that he take part because of his background in stand-up comedy and performing arts. At first it worked like therapy but, he says, the play has a wider range than the particular group of people it depicts or who worked on it. It has, he says, the ability to change everyone. An affable presence, chatterbox Little has a rich Canadian accent (exotic in Wolverhampton on a grey Thursday afternoon). Describing himself as an ‘arrogant shit’ Little is immediately likeable and his passion for his work is evident without him having to tell us he’s passionate.
Darren Swift – “Swifty” – is also from a performing background. “If you need someone with a big nose and no legs, I’m your man,” he laughs. Having worked at the National Theatre and in countless film and TV projects, Swifty represents part of the professional section of the cast. The rest is made of non-professionals, the military personnel whose stories make the fabric of the play. Judging by the testimonials of audiences shown to us in a video clip, there is no shortage of quality.
Little says he feared the production being regarded as a ‘freak show’ with the only applause the patronising kind. He says the reaction has been anything but, with everyone on their feet and in tears by the end. Even his own father, which, Little confides, caused him to have a sob in his dressing room too.
They are keen to point out the play is not political. It’s not about the rights and wrongs of war, says Swifty. We were there, adds Little, and this happened to us and this is where we are now and what we went through.
They play down the therapeutic nature of the enterprise – especially during the rehearsals and the devising process – but any actor will tell you of the healing powers of Doctor Theatre, even if you’ve only got a bit of a cold!
THE TWO WORLDS OF CHARLIE F comes to the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton in March 2014. My interest is well and truly piqued and I can’t wait to see it. You can find booking information here
For more information and to check out the rest of the tour, click this.