Tristan Bates Theatre, London
In the programme notes for Steven Dykes’ Glockenspiel, we are told that 40% of current personnel have been deployed more than once, and 27% of those veterans deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from anxiety disorders and/depression. A fifth of ex-service people are unemployed, and a fifth report cases of domestic violence. Male ex-service members are twice as likely to commit suicide than their non-serving peers. So it’s no secret that the US doesn’t look after its veterans very well. The play tries to look at the effects of service on those now finding their way in the civilian world, but Old Sole Theatre Company’s execution doesn’t deliver the power needed for this slowly-developing script.
Set in an unnamed small town meant to represent generic middle America within a larger city’s metropolitan sprawl, disparate sets of characters prepare for the funerals of three people that served. Act I takes its time laying the ground work for the big reveals in Act II, but Dykes doesn’t use the time to efficiently develop the story. There’s little tension and an excess of exposition, and the cast focus more on their American accents that emotionally connecting with each other and their characters’ grief. The effect is one of tedium and awkward pace and energy. Their accents also traverse a good dozen or so states across several regions – an anathema to small-town USA where people are more likely to stay put than cross state lines.
There are some good performances that emerge in the second half, though. Lolade Rufai’s Carmen, a soldier with great pride in her work and her country, delectably clashes with her late father’s much young wife Justine, the excellent Hebe Renard. Tolu Stedeford as a mum who lost her young daughter to dubious procedures on base, comes into her own after frivolously-written scenes in the first half.
Highly commendable in this time of yellowface and a pronounced lack of diversity, this play is mostly female and mostly black. There is unspoken comment on American racial demographics in the military military by casting all the soldiers as ethnic minorities from disadvantaged backgrounds. The military unashamedly targets the poor and underachieving in American high schools and what with the cost of higher education, many young people see it as the only way out of a cycle of poverty.
Dykes clearly communicates his stance against the military’s treatment of its personnel without taking a propagandist approach, though his first half needs some energising in both the writing and performance. This particular production would be vastly improved by American actors or more extensive accent coaching and a clear directorial decision on the location, though Old Sole deserve praise for bringing this largely unknown text to the stage.
The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.