This show sincerely explores military careers and never forgets that it’s putting humans on stage, not heroics
The stage fills up with men and women in uniform, falling in as they would in a drill hall. You can clearly see their physical injuries and then there is the other damage: the nightmares, the depression, the relationships that have crumbled. Life after war, says one, “is a whole other tour”.
Initially a one-off gala performed by injured servicemen and women, The Two Worlds of Charlie F has inevitably lost some of its straightforward emotional surge for this touring revival, in which professional actors swell the ranks of soldiers. However, the show retains its sincerity, presenting the facts and feelings of military life without flinching and never forgetting that it’s putting humans on stage, not heroics.
Formally, it’s a collection of testimonials arranged thematically and presented using various theatrical techniques. There’s a choral song about “bluey” letters from home, a dance routine built around the physiotherapy process and a lecture that maps the impact of blast from a homemade bomb on the undamaged body of a new recruit.
Writer Owen Sheers moves the piece from military romance to reality. Recruitment images and hypothetical injuries give way to rooms full of civilian casualties and psychological trauma. The authentic details jolt – retired rifleman Dan Shaw recalls leaving his leg behind while being dragged to safety – and the casual military slang (“pink mist”) stings. But it’s the day-to-day trials – the drain of drugs, the listlessness, the phantom pains – and the dignity with which those on stage deal with them that stay with you.
Sometimes, the show strains for emotional currency, and Stephen Rayne’s staging is understandably rudimentary, but this is an enlightening and affecting evening.