Soldier On Review

The Other Palace – until 24 November


This was a difficult ask to review a play about the Armed Forces, the  sacrifices they make and the effect these sacrifices have on themselves, their families and their friends.  I was an Army Wife for 18 years and now the wife of a Veteran for 8 years. So whilst some of the play struck a massive chord – others parts didn’t ring true.

The premise is that Harry (David Soloman), an actor who was fired for stage fright now turned Director, wants to put on a community play about the lives of the military in the community.  We meet the aspiring actors at the auditions. Maggie (Rekha John-Cheriyan) and Beth (Lizzie Mounter) are part of a WAGS choir. Beth is married to a Soldier, she is happy for him to do anything he needs to to decompress after exercises and tours – whether this is drink, drugs or prostitutes as long as she doesn’t know.  Maggie has been married and divorced twice from the military and is now the mother of a serving soldier. Tanya (Sarah Jane Davis) is a widow, her husband was killed in battle. Sophie (Ellie Nunn) is married to a soldier with severe PTSD, she sings with her friend Sal (Zoe Zak) a reservist Doctor whose girlfriend is also a reservist.  Trees (Hayley Thompson) is the daughter of a Falklands Veteran.

Under the leadership of widowed ex Sergeant Major, Len (Jonathan Lewis stepping in for Thomas Craig) the males in the company are all ex forces struggling with their inner demons.  Jacko (Nicholas Clarke) is homeless after being thrown out of a veterans hostel, Rickshaw (Mark Griffin) is separated from his family due to his violent tendencies, TC (Max Hamilton-MacKenzie) is a similar story.  Woody (Cassidy Little) is an amputee, Tom (Robert Portal) suffered a stroke and cancer whilst away on tour but his stiff upper lip prevented him from seeking help as other people were more important. James/Jenny (Mike Prior) is going through gender reassignment to become a woman.  Hoarse (Steve Morgan) and Flaps (Shaun Johnson) have similar PTSD problems.

Through the staging of the community play we see in to the lives of the aspiring actors and try to understand their lives, what they go through daily and how hard it can be.  A stand out piece for me was when Sophie was acting out the scene of refereeing her three children over breakfast and her husband rang. He had no other time in which he could ring back, she needed to talk to him, to discuss important things like their child needing an operation, the children are all fighting, the phone line is crackly and Sophie can only be strong for so long before falling to pieces and that phone call is the proverbial breaking straw.  And I’ve been stood in that kitchen, with three children and a crackly phone line and I know how easy it is to break.

Made up of a mixture of professional actors and members of the Soldiers Arts Academy – a platform for the arts for serving and ex-service personnel – Jonathan Lewis has written and directed an interesting idea.  But is it a play or is it a cause? It’s hard to decide.

If it’s a metaphor for the way the the armed forces, ex- services and veterans are treated then the scene in which a stage hand sweeps away a stage full of battle boots, as if they were rubbish, speaks volumes.

This is a thought provoking piece, with laughs, gallows humour and raw emotion.  On at the Other Palace until 24 November.