The Two Worlds of Charlie F, a play performed and inspired by injured British servicemen and women, is on a tour of duty
Before joining the British Royal Marines, Cassidy Little trained as a dancer, winning a ballet scholarship in St Louis. On his second tour of duty with 42 Commando in Afghanistan, the Canadian was caught in an IED blast. He lost the lower half of his right leg and fractured his left leg in several places.
For the next four months, however, Cassidy will be dancing on stage again. Nor is he the only amputee to do so in The Two Worlds of Charlie F, a play performed and inspired by a cast of injured military personnel.
It’s been more than two years since Cassidy joined the Bravo 22 company, which was established by producer Alice Driver as part of a masterclass scheme and comprised of 30 wounded servicemen and women. Working with the Welsh playwright Owen Sheers, who wrote The Passion of Port Talbot for National Theatre Wales, and director Stephen Rayne over a 10-week devising process, the company created a show that recounted their experiences of active service and injury for a one-off West End gala in January 2012. Two years on, with an Amnesty International award under its belt, Bravo 22 has just started its second UK tour.
It was instigated by the cast themselves. “Some of the guys that had never performed before came off that stage [in 2012] with diamonds in their eyes,” says Cassidy. None of them had anticipated the standing ovation that night, still less that it would continue throughout their run at that years’ Edinburgh festival fringe. “This isn’t like Miss Saigon. It wasn’t created for success, but to help the recovery of the lads involved.”
For Cassidy himself, the project presented “a lifeline” as he puts it. “When you’re injured there’s a clear and present danger of slipping into a slipstream of negative thoughts. You’ve got to be proactive about finding something to latch onto, a safety line you can grab that will keep you afloat.”
That made for a process with its own particular challenges, not least ongoing rehabilitation processes and medication schedules that seriously impacted on the casts’ concentration and memories. “You’re working with very vulnerable people.”
But the creative process exists alongside and, hopefully, aids that rehabilitation. “Dysfunction in relation to trauma breeds through lack of communication, by being bottled up,” explains Cassidy. Sharing their stories, first with Sheers – who has previously spoken of the pressure he felt to do justice to the experiences of his company – and Reyne, but also with each other, and eventually audiences, has proved cathartic.
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Stewart Hill, who incurred a brain injury after being hit by shrapnel, agrees. This company – men and women “of different ages, from different backgrounds, with different levels of intelligence” – has a strong shared experience, he says. “What we have in common is the …read more