Friday, 8 May 2015

Review: The Lonely Soldier Monologues, Cockpit

“I only hope that my ancestors will forgive me, or that I will be able to forgive myself”

Having spent many years interviewing female veterans, Helen Benedict has parlayed their experiences into a hard-hitting and award-winning range of writing – books, novels and now a play in The Lonely Soldier Monologues. Much of her work has been around uncovering the hidden voice of women who have served, and suffered, in the different branches of the US military – a subject that remains as pertinent today as when Benedict started, as demonstrated by the case of Cpl Anne-Marie Ellement here in the UK.

The Lonely Soldier Monologues focuses on US soldiers though, those who fought in Iraq between 2003 and 2006, and wraps together seven such stories, playing out their experiences in parallel. Split roughly into three sections – before the war, during and then after an interval, coming home – it’s a powerfully affecting piece of work, laying bare not only the innate misogyny of so revered an institution but also the personal tragedies it wrought on the service personnel who enlisted, unaware that they’d be fighting the enemy within as much as the enemy without.

For though the stories of these seven women have their differences – the various reasons for enlisting, the beliefs they possessed, the range of personalities and the upbringings that shaped them – what is more striking is the similarities that emerge. The insidious sexism they faced, the ever-present threat of violence – sexual or otherwise, the appalling lack of camaraderie in a world ostensibly predicated on the bond of brotherhood. Captured verbatim, their testimonies are urgent and uncompromising, a shocking exposé of the damage caused by life on the frontline and just who is inflicting it.

It’s almost too much. Prav MJ’s production is presented simply but powerfully by the cast of eight but suffers a little from a lack of variation of tone, especially in the middle section. It is more than redeemed by the final third though, with the women bravely revealing their scars, both physical and psychological, as they return to a world thoroughly ill-equipped to deal with female veterans. And the impact here of the voiceless soldier– an achingly symbolic figure – provides a stunning bolt of emotional clarity in an already fiercely-felt piece of documentary theatre. 

Running time: 100 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 31st May, several evenings are supplemented with a post-show talk, more details here

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was moved beyond words by this play.

As a male veteran of the UK armed forces, I can affirm that many of the shocking issues affecting women, so effectively voiced in this play, are very much found in the British military too.

The actresses in this play gave such depth to these real words, that I often felt I was watching actual American comrades I'd met while on duty.

Run, do not walk, to this thought-provoking and powerful play.

Anonymous said...

I'm American, and know several veterans. Most have never spoken to me about their time in Iraq or Afghanistan. But what little they've said has been shocking. And makes me want to contact them, and tell them I understand.

This play is moving because it's REAL WORDS. The actresses were all fantastic, expressing a huge range of emotions, but all while maintaining the body stance and power the military instills in you.

This play might be simply staged, but therein lies its depth.

Anonymous said...

I saw this play just before flying back out to the US. I came away with much greater understanding of what women in my military - and any military - go through. The play left me both shocked and inspired.

As an American, I'd also like to say that the wide range of American accents featured in this play are MORE THAN WORTHY of a West End run! (I've endured many cringe-inducing American accents in more well-funded productions). I understand that a number of the actors are actual Americans, or have spent significant time in the US. Hiring actors with real American accent skills is laudable in itself.

The Cockpit Theatre might be a slight walk from the station, but The Lonely Soldier is an amazing production, well worth the trip.

Anonymous said...

What a powerful play. Anyone no matter what their political persuasion should watch this. As the stories are 100% real.

And the American accents are really really good, especially the regional accents!

This play will make you angry, and may make you cry. But that means it's effective. Go see it at once.

Anonymous said...

The actresses in this play are really powerful. This kind of set-less verbatim theatre is very hard to do. But they each do it with eloquence, empathy, and toughness as needed.

And I agree, the American accents are FANTASTIC. Where in London could you go to see excellent American accents -- including southern white, Washington DC African American, and California Native American accents?

DO SEE THIS PLAY.