Reparation Island

Patrick Centre

Birmingham Hippodrome

Somewhere in the aftermath of every conflict, every war, every offensive, the are untold, hidden even covered up stories.

True we have the medals and honours, the pomp and ceremony ennobling the least noble of man’s endeavours, and the steady convoys of coffins given a people’s salute at Royal Wooton Bassett until David Cameron’s government moved repatriation to a less public route.

But when the patriotic fanfare dies away what of those left, those who survived, those who returned with broken bodies and broken minds. The politicians who sent them to fight can retire to write their memoirs, but for many of those who fought, in our name, the memoirs are minds full of nightmares and flashbacks.

And it is those memories, those dark descents into places we cannot start to imagine that Bravo 22 company (The Two Worlds of Charlie F) delivers to the imagined island.

Playwright Kevin Fagan interviewed 51 veterans and people connected to the military and their stories were condensed into an emotional roller coaster of just over an hour by a cast of 12. The cast has one actress, Laura Tipper, one Army wife, Rachel Harrington, with a husband, Scott, who lost both legs to an IED in Afghanistan, also in the cast, and one Army daughter, Amy Whistance, whose father has flashbacks taking him back to his time under fire. The rest are ex-military, or, in the case of Corporal Ifraz Sohail, a serving soldier, an ambassador for the military among the Muslim community – an important role when many conflicts are in predominantly Muslim lands.

With the one exception they are not professional actors, which might lose theatrical polish but gains much more than is lost in realism and honesty, these are men and women who tell their own stories and those of others not as words on a page but from the depths of their own minds and experiences, we see souls bared, minds exposed, lives threatened in a roller coaster of emotions. At times the emotion caught up with the cast - these are stories many of them live with on a daily basis.

A common thread is PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is . . . well, some sort of mental thing, not being able to forget bad stuff, or at least that is as much as most people know about it.


Steve Cokayne in rehearsal with the real star of the show - never work with children or animals, remember - Freddie

But for those in the military, facing death, seeing death, experiencing the horrors of Northern Ireland, of Bosnia, of Iraq, Afghanistan . . . PTSD is a bottomless pit of despair, anger, violence, fear, aggression . . . every emotion on the mind’s dark side suffered by them, and, by association, those around them, wives, children, friends, parents, relatives.

We hear of attempted suicides, of anger being taken out on wives almost beaten to death, daughters leaving home in fear of their lives, of turning to the oblivion of a bottle as Fegan’s interviews are brought to life.

There is Rock who tells us the Army breeds a gang mentality, your gang, your regiment and hate the rest – including civilians which was hardly a helpful attitude in, say, Derry. Then we discover the likes of Jamie Weller who was in the Royal Navy when he became blind at 19 only to be told ‘Sorry, nothing we can do’, and he was out and on his own.

He appeared with his black Labrador Freddie, who, it seemed had decided he was on Equity rates for surreptitious doggy treats.

The cast included Tim Seeley ex-artilleryman on nuclear missiles, a medic in Northern Ireland, who couldn’t cope with life outside the army, developed PTSD and a liking for the bottle – now two years sober.

Kevin Hanbury injured among the horrors of Bosnia and Kosovo, Sapper Mark Howell who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and was diagnosed with PTSD in 2013 and spent three years in the black depths of despair before finally being medically discharged.

We discover there is no real help for PTSD for serving personnel, you need to be discharged and become a veteran and even then much of the help is from the voluntary sector.

Steve Cokayne lost his leg in a rock climbing accident on exercise, who like Sott, has competed in the Invicus games, Van Roy Heflin Barrett with 24 years service who in a post show interview talked of the colour prejudice when he was young and its return in the Brexit chaos. Matt Wightman another who suffered the desolation of PTSD who now controls it rather him controlling it.

Another of Fegan’s interviewees, Bear, was stopped from hanging himself from a tree by Junction 26 on the M6 by a foreign lorry driver who spoke no English, Bear is a man who cries that the Army creates soldiers stripped of normal human feelings.

Which begs the question if the Army, the Military, and by extension, the state, is taking civilians and turning them into soldiers, human fighting machines, full of controlled aggression, should it not also have the responsibility of returning soldiers to civilian life as just that, civilians, reprogrammed and repaired with the finance and facilities to help those in need.

The title is perhaps ironic in that reparation from the state for those who have paid a heavy price for serving in our name is somewhat thin on the ground.

This is a moving, powerful, piece of theatre from Bravo 22 Company supported by The Royal British Legion, The Drive Project and Birmingham Hippodrome, 51 stories out of doubtless thausands more, condensed into an hour or so, with tales to tell, told simply, brutally, and honestly. Directed by Christopher Elmer-Gorry it runs to 15-06-19.

Roger Clarke


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