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Brighton Fringe 2012

Soldiers’ Wives by Sarah Daniels

Richard Darbourne

Genre: Drama

Venue: The Old Courtroom


Low Down

"Sarah Daniels’ gripping drama of five wives caught up in the tension of waiting for their men to return whole and unharmed from Afghanistan. Performed by Catherine Shipton nominated for best solo performance at Edinburgh 2012, and better known for creating the iconic role of DUFFY in BBC’s Casualty"


This play by Sarah Daniels, performed by Catherine Shipton, was nominated for best solo performance at Edinburgh in 2012. Anthony Biggs directs this piece with directness and simplicity, allowing the talented actor to create a range of characters before us. Five wives Living on an army base somewhere in England this is a play about the visible and invisible scars that war can leave behind.

Soldiers’ Wives is a play that was first broadcast on Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4. Inplaces it has a radio feel to it and there isn;t always much for the actor to do. Sarah Daniels takes ten minute sor so to find the right pitch in the Old Courtroom venue which felt a bit cavernous in the night I attended. Credit to the talents of the performer that she adjusted well to the audience size who were clearly engaged throughout. 
We learn a lot during this play. We are spoken to directly  we learn about the "job" of an army wife. We learn about the lives of these women and about an incident that brings much bubbling and erupting to the surface. 
The style at the start is very theatrical and the whole thing needs pacing better in those first fifteen minutes – it is hardly paced at all and there’s very little silence, especially during the first fifteen minutes. People don’t speak that fast across the board – the characters have been paced almost identically making it hard to delineate them easily. Characters also share an almost identical tonal range and this needs work. But then it settled. And what it settled into is a very finely tuned piece of one woman drama. It lifted and reached right into the audience nd won our attention. I tend to feel that the pacing has more to do with the venue than the performer on this particular occasion. 
The play really took off later on in the piece, especially when the emotional content shifted. Indeed the piece took flight when emotions became more raw and the style became more naturalistic. Normality is shattered and the dramatic punch reaches through. We have strong character acting, witty and sharply observed writing with plenty of accessible narrative to draw us into what are real lives that interest us.
Staging is simple and direct with some well chosen sound effects. We are taken on a journey throught the connected lives of characters that are all affected in different ways by war and by what happens to Pete.
The unraveling of the fabric of a marriage lies at the heart of this for me and I recommend this as crisp, content-loaded writing which provided an opportunity for a talented actor to engage us fully. Tour-de-force, was how my friend Shirley Jaffe described it. It deserved a much bigger audience.