REVIEW: BATTLE CRY @ THEATRE ROYAL PLYMOUTH
🎭 Battle Cry
📍 The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth, Royal Parade, Plymouth, Devon, PL1 2TR
🗓 Thursday 2nd November 2023
POWERFUL, HARROWING AND BRILLIANT
Powerful and profoundly disturbing, Battle Cry is extraordinary. A finely crafted solo play that relates the true story of former soldier, Adam, his experience of horrific modern warfare and his resulting battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The stark, uncompromising set consists of the black walls of The Drum theatre and a nondescript chair lit only from overhead. Dire Straits’ song Brothers in Arms is playing. A disheveled man enters and walks hesitantly towards the chair carrying a Tesco carrier bag. He glances anxiously around him; will he walk out again? As he reaches the chair the music fades. He sits and shoves the carrier under the chair. We notice he is shaking, twisting and snapping at an elastic band around his wrist. His unhappiness is palpable, coming off him in waves that reach all of us watching. He could flee at any moment. The voice of someone calling a name and the squeak of a door places him in a clinic or Drs’ surgery. He is visibly upset by the sound and stands quickly. Calming a little he completes a form hanging on the chair on a clipboard. He sits, then after a moment unexpectedly he speaks to us.
Matt Fox’s exceptional writing and Steve Cowley’s superb acting holds the audience spellbound from the first moment. We listen in deep silence to him telling of his “normal” childhood in an unremarkable part of Yorkshire, happy, loved, nice. Not being much interested in school he joined the Army as a way of travelling the world. As he relates his experiences of training and army style living, incidences of bullying and male joshing, “like school really” his hands are constantly moving, running through his hair, twanging the elastic, rubbing his legs. He is occasionally interrupted by the disembodied voice calling another patient, each time seeming more triggered by this. We are becoming anxious on his behalf by now, he seems so fragile.
His story is fast becoming more detailed, his distress more apparent as he graphically recounts his duties and his patrols. Meeting the people trying to carry on their lives in a war zone. Being terrified. Moments of grim humour amplify the sheer dread wrought in this man’s mind. It is now clear his carrier is full of cans of alcohol and he cracks them open, drinking to numb images burnt into his brain. “Just normal people with wives and families” He describes the buildup of stress inside him, “Just because you get used to it doesn’t mean you are ok with it!” but no one wants to be the first to say they are far from ok.
Then comes the incident that breaks him....
At this point in the play some audience members are visibly upset and some are overcome and leave. The Theatre Royal has experts on standby to support those affected. There are military and ex-military personnel among our number. For me, the truly devastating part of the show was the description of his intense loneliness and loss on returning to civilian life. No longer of use to the army he is discharged broken and unable to relate to family or friends. A downward spiral into alcohol and drug abuse to try and escape the horrors in his own head, slowly killing himself – gut wrenching.
This masterful play comes with more trigger warnings than anything I have seen. Nevertheless, I am extremely pleased I saw it. It has huge humanity, there is no hate just bewilderment and grief. The immaculate acting will have you writhing in empathy. Its focus is PTSD in veterans and it is an experience that most of us are fortunate not to share, making it lonelier and more harrowing for them. It goes a long way to demonstrating the crippling impact of serving one's country and forces us to face what is expected of these people head on. It is courageous, harsh, emotional and pertinent particularly to a military city like Plymouth. If you feel strong enough, I urge you to see this play.
Sensory notice & content flags: Contains strong language and adult themes, graphic descriptions and sounds of war and explosions as well as real life stories of war, PTSD and addiction.
Battle Cry plays in The Drum at Theatre Royal Plymouth until Saturday 4th November. Head to www.theatreroyal.com to check availability and to book tickets.
All views are my own and I pride myself on being honest, fair and free from influence. Theatre is subjective and it is important to remember that all views expressed are just those of one reviewer.
My ticket for this performance of Battle Cry was gifted by Theatre Royal Plymouth who invited me to watch the show on behalf of Pink Prince Theatre in exchange for my honest review. The fact that my ticket was gifted played no part in the content of my review or the star rating given.
The Theatre Royal Plymouth is the principle home of the performing arts in the South West and is the largest and most attended regional producing theatre in the country. Their mission is to develop and deepen people's engagement with pioneering creativity in Plymouth and the South West, delivering experiences that spark delight, expression and fulfilment. The venue offers three performance spaces of various sizes, the largest being The Lyric which accommodates the big touring productions. The Drum and The Lab are smaller, intimate spaces and often offer pioneering productions and I have personally seen some excellent productions in these spaces.