A guest review by Derek Linney
The Two Worlds of Charlie F was first performed at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in January 2012 by a group of 12 wounded, injured and sick (WIS) service personnel and veterans of the Armed Forces and 5 professional actors. It is based upon the experience of service men and women severely injured while serving primarily in Afghanistan. Through a series of acts it covers their transition through recruitment, operational experience, injury and then treatment and rehabilitation.
The problem with reviewing the play is that it is difficult to separate ones response to the stories of the individuals and their undoubted courage in facing the trauma of severe injury and disability from ones critical judgement of the piece as theatre. There is undoubtedly an initial shock from seeing limbless, wheelchair bound actors on stage that clearly sets the tone for the piece. However, having a friend with an artificial limb, we found this perhaps less shocking than many of the audience.
We attended a pre-show briefing by some of the cast and we found this, in many ways, more emotionally powerful than the play itself. Their honest descriptions of the positive benefits from acting out their stories balanced by the sheer physical and mental effort of doing this while, in some cases, still undergoing operations and the effects of large scale drug treatment was genuinely moving. Unfortunately we found the play itself less convincing than this short pre-show event. Perhaps the size of the G-Live venue contributed to a lack of intimacy. We also felt that the piece was more a revue rather than a well developed play and it unfortunately exposed the somewhat, understandable amateur nature of the personnel on stage. A different format that involved the participants simply telling their stories would, in our view, have been far more powerful a drama. This of course might not have secured the type of nation wide appeal that the current show is enjoying.
None of this takes away from the courage of the individuals involved who have our full admiration. It is simply that their stories are so poignant and their personal determination to overcome their difficulties so moving that they deserve a simpler, dare one say less theatrical expression.