Robert Tanitch reviews The Two Worlds of Charlie F at Theatre Royal, Richmond, Surrey
War, we are forcibly reminded, happens on the bodies of men. The performing arts have been regularly used as recuperative therapy for the physically and psychologically sick.
The performing arts have a proven record of boosting the confidence and the self-esteem of the seriously wounded in war and those suffering from post-traumatic stress.
The Two Worlds of Charlie F, which began with workshops and still looks like a workshop, is an illustrated lecture about soldiers returning from Afghanistan. The script by Owen Sheers, based on an original concept by Alice Driver, is built on in-depth interviews with military personnel and their families. The personal narratives cannot fail to distress.
The performance also uses songs, physiotherapy and dance. The cast, headed by Cassidy Little, a former marine, is a mixture of real soldiers and actors. The soldiers, some in wheelchairs and some with prosthetic limbs, play fictionalised versions of themselves. The programme gives details of their injuries.
Stephen Rayne’s production opens with a soldier on the operating table shouting obscenities. Physically he is the UK; mentally he is still in Afghanistan, believing he is being tortured.
The first act takes the audience from enlistment to action. The second act shows the men and women back home and their efforts to re-assimilate. At the curtain call, the audience pays its respects to the injured and their courage with a standing ovation.
The Two Worlds of Charlie F is immensely positive and worthy but you must not go to it, expecting it to have the theatrical panache or the political clout of, for instance, John Taffany’s production of Black Watch had
The concept here is not political. It is not theatrical. It is therapeutic and on a much more modest scale and would probably work even better on television as a proper documentary.
The production is going on a national charity tour, sponsored by the Royal British Legion, and will visit Wolverhampton, Malvern, Nottingham, Bromley, Newcastle, Norwich, Wycombe, Guildford, Colchester, Truro and Manchester.