Tim Marriott – A Journey From Sit Com To Shell Shock

Actor Tim Marriott became known to millions in the sitcom The Brittas Empire. In recent years he has found an entirely new audience – returning to the stage with plays like Shell Shock that have found success at the Fringe and worldwide. Here Tim talks about his contribution to this year’s Army@TheVirtualFringe – and invites you to get involved.

When, after seven happy seasons, The Brittas Empire came to an end and television roles dried up I was faced with a choice. I could trade on a sit-com profile and tour the country in “whoops-vicar-where’s-me-trousers-gone” farces and pantos or do something different.

I was lucky enough to land a great job in education and settled down to family life on the south coast, thinking I was done with the actor’s life … never say never, eh?

Seventeen years later I was introduced to military publisher Ryan Gearing and he asked if I could adapt a book for the stage. I was immediately engaged by the authenticity, humour and energy of Neil “Blower” Watkin’s semi-biographical novel Shell Shock: The Diary of Tommy Atkins, and backed by a Libor Fund grant we developed it into a solo stage piece to be performed as a pilot project using theatre to engage audiences and impact attitudes to mental health.

Tim Marriott

The original role was played by a younger actor, I had never intended to perform it myself, but circumstances later forced me onto the stage when our actor became unavailable at short notice and so off I went to the Adelaide Fringe where we were thrilled to win a Best Solo Show award and subsequently bring  Shell Shock to Edinburgh with Army@TheFringe.

Neil wrote the original novel as part of his treatment for PTSD. He is a remarkable success story, in that he rebuilt his personal and professional life and has recently qualified as a paramedic. He attributes much of this achievement to the process of writing down his experiences in the style of fact-based fiction, removing himself a little bit from the reality of his experience and therefore able to be objective about it. The extraordinary thing for me was that adapting his story and then performing it achieved a similar cathartic experience not just for our audiences but also for myself. Traumatic and stressful experiences in my past that I had long buried and never really dealt with were reopened and worked through.

Shell Shock achieves this effect for many of those who see it. A terrific award winning season at Edinburgh with Army@TheFringe was followed by a long tour of Australia, promoting the Invictus Games, performing across the country, in rural towns and cities, travelling with a team from the charity Stand Tall for PTS.

Equally eye opening was when we toured with the Army Mental Health Team last year, as those affected by the play stayed and talked, sometimes long into the night. Through this journey I have become acutely aware of how telling stories, recording or writing down experiences, whether in prose, poetry or as a performance piece can be a highly effective release, helping achieve distance and objectivity to process traumatic experiences.

Illustration from Dressing the Dead by Tim Hodgetts

The post-service context of Shell Shock is vital and authentic but we have discovered that the performance works equally well in other sectors. First responders, health workers, journalists, teachers, farmers dealing with drought and bush-fires in Australia have all found resonance in the story. This remains true now, more than ever.

It is well documented that Covid-19 is having, and will continue to have, a profound impact upon our mental health. It would have been a joy and an honour to come back to Edinburgh and Army@TheFringe this year with Shell Shock, to continue to tell Neil’s inspiring story and encourage others to share their own stories and find their own pathway to recovery, as well as assist other emerging writers and storytellers through workshops, especially given the uncertain world we find ourselves in right now.

Sadly, this is no longer possible but whilst the physical events at EdFringe will not take place this year, we can still contribute. Shell Shock was recorded last year by the Army Engagement Team at the National Army Museum during Mental Health Week, and can be seen here on YouTube  but we are especially thrilled that in a virtual setting, we can present some new work by experienced writers as well as discover some brand new voices with Army@TheVirtualFringe.

To be also able to explore how writing can help aid wellbeing in an online seminar workshop will be tremendous, and I hope that this will encourage and facilitate veterans, families and health care professionals to find their creative voice.

  • Submissions can be audio or video recordings (laptop or mobile is fine) of the writer performing their own work possibly with image(s) or the text, though if a writer is not confident in performing their own work we can arrange a professional actor to do so. Contributions would ideally be around 60-90 secs long, no more than three minutes please, and may be sent via email or data transfer to boxoffice@shellshock.org.uk.
  • Find out more about Tim and his company at https://www.smokescreenprods.com 
  • Shell Shock can be seen at  https://youtu.be/2e3F7Sl6nmI