Theirs but to do and die

At Ease

The Old Joint Stock


At Ease is a passionate account of issues that must be addressed. Rod Dungate is the director, researcher and playwright of the verbatim piece.

In this play, we hear about the tragic life of soldier Alex Rees, abused from a young age, finally having a chance at a happy life by joining the Blues and Royals, only to be abused in the most horrific ways again.

DDArts explores sexual abuse in the army and the impact this had on the life of Alex Rees. Dungate feeds knowledge and research through other characters of family, Lord Cashman, whose encounter with Rees came to light when campaigning for LGBT rights in the mid 90s, and the character of Dungate himself who’s research was so integral to the piece. Dungate highlights the stigmas throughout a Forty-year period and the harrowing impact it had on the life of Rees.

Firstly, the set alludes to a kitchen, but television screens upstage showed us pictures of where the action took place, as they allude to many significant settings. Classic Brechtian screen titles to reminded us where we were. It was needed, as the backdrop of a modest home did not make sense against the setting of Westminster offices and army barracks.

The story behind Alex Rees was highly engaging and would work well in a radio play. The documentary style shows a vast wealth of research and passion for the theme in hand. It is certainly a substantial and touching subject to touch upon and it shows within the script that Dungate has thought through every detail. It was a shame that the execution of a fantastic theme and story was not carried out to serve it justice.

The docudrama style, although commendable in background knowledge, was reflected with a dull and dreary delivery. To show what was gathered throughout the process, the cast read from newspaper articles, interviews and other sources in a ‘news reporter style’.

Actors physically read the research from folders and left no room for the imagination to empathise with what was really happening, as their parrot fashion of recall did not connect to the story or the people portrayed within it. It left a feeling that some actors were insensitive to their character, and did not truly connect with the lives and stories of the people they portrayed. This made the show look somewhat under rehearsed. It was a shame that the direction from Dungate was not clearly handled by most of the cast.

Actor Carl Thornley played protagonist Alex Rees. He constantly lacked empathy throughout his performance as the emotionally and physically abused soldier. The character of Rees had great substance. The tragic journey and circumstance was not depicted through Thornley’s performance. The part was merely learned, with stumbling lines and a constantly rushed pace. From an audience’s perspective, Thornelyat ease had no sense of connection and really failed to grasp the essence of the complexity of Alex Rees, which was a shame.

The same can be said for Shannon Anthony, playing Alex’s sister, Liz. The character of Liz carried a heavy past, showing the relationship between brother and sister and seeing the actions of Alex over a period of time. The emotional and psychological effect of being abused as a youngster by her father and seeing the person her brother became was not shown within her performance. It was as if lines were learned and said, but nothing more.

A shining light in the production was actor Denny Hodge who played MEP Michel Cashman. A highly commended LGBT campaigner within the Labour party. Hodge gave a strong portrayal of the real life politician with strong and engaging edge. Hodge showed us that with Dungate’s thorough research, we see inside the life of the person in the public eye and follow his incredible journey.

A great performance also came from Alison Belbin, who we saw too little. She replayed a touching performance of Alex Rees’ mother. Her attention to detail of the woman’s true life together with Dungate’s research was very well done.

The engaging Jack Richardson played Dungate himself. Through his performance, Richardson shows us the ways in which the piece was researched and adds a sense of his own character, which was a nice touch to feed into the story of the abused soldier.

The concept of At Ease is profound. There is no doubt that this docudrama was intricately thought out and well written as a result of the research and empathy that Dungate had for the topic in hand. Unfortunately the piece was not well executed and seemed lengthy and unengaging due to the lack of emphasis of characterisation, and unexciting direction. This play will work brilliantly as a radio production, but did not work well on stage. To 20-06-15

Elizabeth Halpin



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