Edinburgh Fringe 2017
Tommy has come home from the army and is suffering from PTSD, though he does not really know it yet – we do. And there, the clichés end. This is a stunning piece of testimony brought to you with the authenticity of someone unfettered by theory and simply driven by an unbridled need to tell a story that is familiar but still difficult for us to contemplate. Tommy is constantly on a knife edge which he inhabits until the unraveling at the end. This is a superior performance piece that is built slowly and though it may be predictable the way you are engaged throughout draws you into the piece to be on the side of Tommy and his cry for help.
There are several things about this which make it one of the most must see things to see on the Fringe. Firstly, well backed, time has been taken to tour and test the script. If there is ever a time when scripts come to a stage half developed it can be during the Fringe. Here we get a piece of writing that has gone through the test of audience reaction and developed along the way – please take note.
It therefore does not hit the topic full force and full on, thus losing the impact of its message, but over a period of time with set pieces allowing us to be drawn into the inevitable problems facing Tommy. The ground work is done very well as slowly the reveal of his PTSD is done without fanfare and with a highly effective number of sequences which ends with the much delayed gunfire and nightmares becoming far too much for him.
Next the direction has an assured quality which allows you to feel that this has authenticity and the desire to both educate and entertain. To suggest watching someone slowly melt down is entertainment may be strange but Shell Shock manages to keep you very much on the edge of Tommy’s seat.
Thirdly the performance. This is simply astonishing and astounding and led me to pick up a dictionary to look under superlatives. Tom Page, in his role had this guy in the palm of his hands and in our hearts from the very beginning. We are wishing him to succeed but aware of the unlikely nature of that conclusion. It brings heartache as he begins to unravel but avoids a cliché ridden exposure of the issues he faces. This is a careful performance, measured to allow Tommy to expose himself through a careful peeling back to expose the questions we are asking of our young men throughout all the conflicts to which we send them. that we then leave them to their own devices – until they are desperate enough to say help rather than shout it or behave it is part of the message that is carefully and with such respect delivered to tehri audience by an actor of such balanced nuance.
As a piece of drama this has so much to discuss. The use of a soundscape that builds, the set that gives us a room in a house and a place that was never sanctuary, a bedroom that should have been and a chair that his father stopped occupying.
The costume for Tommy was simple and enough to remind us not just symbolically of the paucity of the support but also of the stripped back nature of going to where they are needed with the minimum of things to hold them back.
When the noose that his mother was going to use is brought out the issue of mental illness smacks you as a familial problem though here we are given a single issue and with the theatrical narrative built round little traps set at one points and then sprung at another shows a very deft and confident approach to the piece which made my head swim by the end. In awe of Tom’s energy, in complete Support of the role of Combat Stress and back to being aware of just how important it is that we make sure that those keeping us safe are kept safe too. If you only go and see on serious piece of drama this year…