FringeReview Scotland 2018
The journey of one young man, Ryan, who goes from his game console to soldiering to return to his family damaged by his Afghani adventures. Told in full mask with no words but plenty of expression it centres around his struggle to deal with the horrors of war in the peace of his home. The multiple traumatic episodes he experiences strips him of his ability to live within the expected parameters of life in a community that is ill equipped to deal with grown men who can literally end up in the rubbish pile.
We begin with a very well observed domestic scene which sets his familial context and normalcy. It is against this which the drama is then played out; we return when videos and letters return, and memories are stirred.
From the beginning the sister, the mother, Ryan himself and their relationships are beautifully drafted in ways that other companies would do well to study, those with the words, to see how to create a scene that tells a story.
From there Ryan is off to the army.
That backdrop brings the expectation of something bad going to happen. It needs contrast and that comes in abundance. We have a young Afghani girl making a connection with Ryan, as she plays with her doll and tries to sell him something; he is reminded of his own sister. That connection between home and then heartache is delivered with Ryan finding her doll decapitated; suggesting her death. Ryan loses control, his friend Ravi takes his place in the patrol and then dies from an IED, in Ryan’s place.
Ryan is then home, out clubbing, when he ends up in a fight, as he is trained to be. He gets discharged from the army; his descent has begun which take him from ASDA to a wheelie bin in which he hides. To Ryan, the only solution looks like pills and alcohol before, by chance, his sister arrives.
It is a compelling narrative and comes directly from the research and the allies it has gathered in that process. From the foyer display to the programme notes this has authenticity and the true stories of veterans, writ large. It vibrates with truth and makes you shudder with realisation because of it.
It is crisply directed with the use of theatre arts central to the piece. The set splits and becomes ASDA after having been the home and Helmand, the lighting serves as a back drop and visual storyteller at the same time and the music, though I found it slightly irritating, follows the textless text well.
Performances are nuanced. They manage to evoke the right form of response from the audience without any clichés or having to over mime. Their subtlety is the key to why Vamos have such a tremendous reputation and this made A Brave Face, a performance I was desperate to see.
At the end, there was a bit of a standing ovation – it was also the last night of their tour – and I did not stand. Here’s why. There are massive amounts to love about this production, but I do have one niggle and that is the story. There is little doubt that this is a story worth telling and needing to be told countless times. The thing is that, over the last few years I have seen this story on at least 3 different occasions. Each and every time I have noted the connection between the storyline and a real event that has been connected through a forces based charity or an individual connected with the production which has a connection themselves with the armed forces or of a loved one who has returned in such a state.
In short, I have seen this all before; though never in quite such an inventive manner. But I want more. I cannot help but wonder if the connection between theatrical company and the organisations so critical to their authenticity has removed a critical faculty or two. Someone to my mind gets off lightly – is it the armed forces who need to take a hit on this? Is it the government who need to be heavily censured for their part in not helping enough? Why should it take charities to take up the cudgels and not the state?
I ask because these are the questions I hoped to get answers directly from the stage in future. Here I got a well told story that told me new things in an innovative and beguiling manner, what I hope is that the unbelievable theatrical wizardry on display finds an opportunity to become heavily critical and thus more illuminating along their next pathway.