Edinburgh Fringe 2009
As You Were
The Bridge Company
Venue: Sweet Grassmarket
One can’t deny the boldness and bravery of this verbatim drama devised by students from the Bridge Company with director Nathan Curry. All their words come from a series of interviews with people of various generations about their reactions to war and conflict. There is little more compelling than hearing the thoughts of real people affected by extraordinary circumstances and we hear some amazing incites along the way. Though sometimes overwrought and uneven, it is a fascinating 45 minutes.
When it works, nothing is more riveting than hearing the words and thoughts of real people performed verbatim by actors. David Hare’s Stuff Happens and Moises Kaufman’s The Laramie Project are two of the most compelling plays about contemporary events you could ever read or see. As You Were intermittently reminds us how special verbatim drama can be.
Based on a series of interviews apparently conducted by the students themselves, this curiously-titled patchwork of war stories sees the young company of six playing multiple characters from a Japanese prisoner of war to a contemporary soldier. The former prisoner of war (impressive Mike Harrison) describes himself as “like a walking safari” because of the conditions he was kept in. A soldier says: “We need to get into certain villages and annihilate them. In the long wrong they’ll be a lot better off.” (The fact that one isn’t sure if this is a soldier in Vietnam or in Iraq is, in itself, unnerving.) Another soldier talks of meeting his son for the first time when he arrived home from the war and a boy answered and called to his mother “There’s a soldier at the door. I think it’s dad.” Jessica Collins – the most natural and promising performer in the cast – also tells a story of her husband being killed three days after the birth of their son.
For all the effort made to deliver such a compelling piece, As You Were is quite uneven. With the exception of a running sequence which works quite well against its hard rock music, the movement sequences rather belong in the pile marked Student Self-Indulgence. They may well have worked in a larger space but as performed on this postage stamp of a stage it looks a little bit like they’re afraid that the words alone wouldn’t interest us enough. Not so. When in the hands of the best of these actors one feels that, for the most part, stillness and concentration would have worked better. A folk song during which the rest of the performers hug each other is an unnecessary plunge into sentimentality, and indeed rather incongruous given the commendable level of emotional dignity expressed by the characters they play.
The challenge of this project (often met) is how the young cast deal with emotional empathy. At their best letting the words speak for themselves they allow us an acute sense of connection. Less successfully the feelings are funneled through the performances. A terrific short scene has the actors playing, presumably, themselves or their friends’ talking about how they feel about having a minute’s silence. Their almost uniform inability to take such an idea seriously (one refers to always wanting to laugh or make a noise) is a brilliant fleeting insight into how separated young people are from real trauma, despite the fact that many of the people who die in conflict are themselves tragically young. A compelling and thoughtful 45 minutes.