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The Full Military Monty: PTSD with laughs

Soldier On by the Soldiers’ Arts Academy in Association with The Playground Theatre Presents Solider on at Exeter Northcott; 22 and 23 February 2018

by Jamie Taylor

The opportunity to see Exeter Northcott’s world premier of Solider On, only lasted two days before its short UK tour, so this is a show too many people may have missed. It shines a light on life beyond the military family that service personnel forge and gives insight into military survivors of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). With as many as 70,000 veterans in the UK fighting to get their life back on track after leaving the military, this is an important, sometimes tough, sometimes amusing play – performed by some of those whose story it tells.

Wrapping this sensitive topic with drama, director Jonathan Guy Lewis takes the audience on a somewhat painful journey. ‘Soldier On’ centres around the process of the show coming together, whilst looking at each cast member’s individual story; their life in the service, in drama. This feels real. Real soldiers, shoulder-to-shoulder, stage-by-stage with professional actors; and a creative success. For some it was their first time on stage, but who would have known it as they told their real stories with raw emotion, making for some touching moments.

The Soldiers’ Arts Academy, in association with Playground Theatre, uses contemporary music alongside synchronised sequences, as they show how soldiers reunite with family. We witness one former soldier as he battles to walk again. These vignettes contrast with parts of the script that are hilarious.  Black comedy, with laughs at unexpected moments, and a serious subject that has changed the lives of those on stage and, as we see, their families. Lewis says that in developing the play, he discovered how ancient Greek understood PTSD; lighting a big fire and then relating tales of battle freshly fought; and in doing so creating a shared narrative; stories that would help people who had gone through trauma. That too is the essence of Soldier On.

And if you think spending an evening watching people who have suffered PTSD isn’t a crowd puller for a theatre, that could be right. But as a friend of the director says, think about it as the Full Military Monty. It’s that good.

Soldier On now tours to Oxford, York, Gravesend and London.

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