Tag Archives: The Two Worlds of Charlie F

Theatre of War

THE TWO WORLDS OF CHARLIE F
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 26th March, 2014

 

It begins with shadow play. A soldier wakes up in a hospital bed believing he is still at the mercy of his Taliban torturers. “You’re in Birmingham,” says the nurse, but this does nothing to decrease his confusion and distress! It’s a powerful opening in a show that provides many powerful moments.

Charlie F (Cassidy Little) addresses the audience in a monologue and so easy-going is Little’s style we take to him immediately. He must expect that we will be staring at the stump of his right leg so he swings it around and rests it in on one of his crutches. Little is the real deal – having been injured during a tour of duty himself. Other actors come on and add their name, rank, serial numbers and injuries to a litany of introduction. The show is not just Charlie F’s story; it covers the experiences of a range of characters, going right back to why they each joined the army, their training and their time in Afghanistan.

Director Stephen Rayne delivers each scene in a different way, covering a wide range of presentational styles. We get a (mercifully) brief lecture on the history of conflict in Afghanistan – conflict in that country is nothing new – and so the play informs you of facts you may not know but its main thrust is to bring an awareness of the soldiers’ lot on a personal, individual basis. The script by Owen Sheers ties together naturalistic scenes with more stylised and documentary-type sequences; the soldiers are plain-speaking, swear like navvies, and share a dark sense of humour that leavens some of the more horrific details.  These are real-life stories and that makes them more hard-hitting than any Hollywood retelling.

There are songs too, here and there, ranging from the humorous song of the Bombardier to the more sentimental letters-from-home number – yet the tone never veers into the mawkish. There is too much harsh reality here.

The cast is a mix of professionals and soldiers-turned-actor, and they are differently-abled as performers. Some sound like actors and some don’t – this actually works to the show’s benefit in some moments, when they are giving testimony, documentary-style, adding an air of authenticity to their stories.

The second act deals with their lives back in England, receiving treatment, physical therapy, medication – and the effects all this has on their spouses and children. It’s not just the soldier who is affected. You get the sense that they may have been better off if they hadn’t survived the land mine they stepped on – but for all its stark horror, the play is somehow life-affirming. Soldiers are more than statistics; they are human like the rest of us. This is not a play about the whys and wherefores of why we go to war but a revelation of what it’s like for the ordinary men and women who do this most difficult job, and you can’t help respecting and admiring them for that.

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Cassidy Little

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Charlie F – coming soon to UK theatres

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.

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