The Other Palace, London – until 24 November 2018
If you thought The Comedy About A Bank Robbery was a strange title, here comes the Comedy About Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Soldier On is a brave enterprise of the Soldiers’ Arts Academy charity which helps rehabilitate ex-service people through involvement with theatre, and this excellent company is part-military, part-professional actors.
Author Jonathan Guy Lewis’ (ex-Army, ex-Soldier, Soldier on TV) script borrows from A Chorus Line with some shonky auditions for a community play based on military lives. There’s a lot of amateur theatrical banter but the company hits its stride vividly depicting the frictions between absent or traumatised soldiers and their families, some of the scenes are truly explosive.
Most moving among the stories is an ex-colonel, immaculately portrayed by Robert Portal whose prostate cancer makes giving the eulogy at a comrade’s funeral a noble battle with his own plumbing. Portal is an actor whose stiffened spine has won him countless soldierly roles in television and film, he’s an extraordinary gung-ho adventurer too.
But the performance you most warm to is Cassidy Little, Royal Marine medic and an amputee since an IED incident in Afghanistan in 2011, who is not only the cheekiest and most actually hilarious within the company, but has parlayed his injuries and talents into a role as a motivational paralympic athlete in Coronation Street.
The piece is refreshingly free of mawkishness save perhaps for an anthem by the Military Wives’ Choir as a post-curtain extra. But it’s also free of any discussion about whether ex-soldiers resent the circumstances or the politics for which they were injured. A very worthy cause, though, especially around the time of Remembrance Day and the 100th anniversary of the Armistice.
And at least James Blunt didn’t show up …
until 24 November
Trivium: Lord Lloyd Webber didn’t give the charity a discount for the hire of the theatre. Producer Amanda Faber told me ‘it was a regular commercial contract’.