Brighton Fringe 2015
In this critically acclaimed new play, an ex-soldier casts an unflinching and at times darkly humorous eye over his childhood, its impact on his relationships, his experiences of war, and the three key events that have dramatically changed his life. He is still fighting, but it’s a different war now..
This one man tour of a soldier’s psyche doesn’t pull its punches any more than the soldier boy himself did – or his abusive father come to that. Kevin Hely plays the soldier, an uncompromising man from an uncompromising background, and he keeps the pace and tension of this monologue going – it’s a tremendous piece of acting. As his story unfolds we get an insight into what drove him before, and the things that changed those drivers, moments of epiphany and insight. There isn’t any one thing – it is the accumulation of these Roses of Jerico that bring the character to a different set of mind and feeling. The roses themselves? – well it’s a central image that is explained in the play so I won’t spoil it here. Hely’s impatient tramping across the stage, his placing of his hands on the walls at each side emphasise the savage and visceral reality of most of his life and keep the audience watching, slightly tense.
The play deals with two things – there is a personal realisation and recovery from a savage background, but there is also a political realisation from the lead character’s exploits in the British army. The one is necessary before the other is the message that comes across . Kevin Hely is both menacing and engaging as he tells his story, some of it very savage and unforgiving, some of it funny and humorous. The story of the tattoo he has on his arm serves as a symbol of his bleak misunderstanding of what makes relationships tick and also a poignant reminder of the love that he does still seek, if that isn’t too strong a word. His story delineates the way hard drinking and abusive behaviour is handed down the generations, but hopeful that there are always chinks that can prise a man out of these violent emotional dead-ends. It’s a very compelling and believable piece of storytelling, the anecdotes explain and entertain.
The end of the play is slightly disconcerting and less satisfying than the beginning. Right from the start Hely has been convincing as the ex-soldier, the story is uncompromising and stark, his realisations moving, but the sudden transition from hard man to ecological and political activist feels a little forced into the play as a whole. It’s a powerful piece nonetheless in its portrayal, a physical tour de force by Kevin Hely, but maybe not in its conclusions.