training

10 Soldiers

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

The five have become 10 in Rosie Kay’s evolving chronicles of life in the British Army in this dramatic world premiere marking the latest chapter of her soldier’s tale. 5 SOLDIERS had the intimacy that comes from small spaces, I last saw it sitting on the stage at Birmingham Rep and in that studio setting the audience are almost on the front line with the dancers.

Here the five have become a full squad of 10 SOLDIERS, the stage has become the theatre of war, the audience observers of choreographer Rosie Kay's ever-unfolding story.

The expansion has allowed for a new beginning. In five we start with new recruits, trained and waiting for action, here we start with young men and women arriving off civvy street, raw recruits, not long out of school, being cajoled, hardened up and honed into a modern fighting machine.

It is a section which leads into a second act where our squad are trained, supremely fit and yet untested, at times kicking their heels which brings in the horseplay of young men full of pent-up energy with nothing to do. We have games, pushing and shoving, laughs and a game  with everyone throwing tyres that could have come from a circus . . . and at times it becomes sexually charged.

With women serving on the front line a new battle front has been opened closer to home. While the women are soldiers, trained, fit, and able as the men, they are also women, and attractive women at that.

While the men have their macho moments in their idle hours, we have a girl, danced by Harriet Ellis, who is using her downtime to be what she is under all the camouflage gear, pack, boots – a woman, which elicits lust rather than comradeship in the squaddies, highlighting a situation the Army faces when it comes to equality and diversity.

Lust evaporates and we are left with a touching and inventive pas de deux with Luke Bradshaw, the soldier in fatigues with the soldier now a woman, Luke, Harriet and a tyre – tyres being a feature of the whole piece – all to the haunting music from Pergolesi’s celebrated 1736 sacred work Stabat Mater, said, incidentally, to have been completed the night before he died from tuberculosis in a Franciscan monastery where he was being cared for.

Luke and Harriet

Harriet Ellis and Luke Bradshaw in a pas de deux . . . with a tyre

But armies the world over since man first held a weapon have had a single purpose. Their role is to either attack or defend a nation or a cause. Which brings us to a very effective section as the soldiers are deployed, boarding a helicopter given a reality by a grainy, black and white video wall of first an open helicopter doorway and then a moving panorama of the land below.

The video wall created by designer Louis Price, is used extensively, always grainy, always black and white, always giving an impression rather then a picture, while music ranges from Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries to Metallica, The Clash, Katy Perry along with Tammy Wynette’s Stand by Your Man.

There is also music from Annie Mahtani which gives an hypnotic, sometimes sinister, pulsing sound in the background rising and falling to the drama all aided by Mike Gunning's effective lighting with it's clever use of florescent tubes dropping from the flies to indicate the institutionalised nature of barrack life.

Rapid fire drills as a squad - superbly done - show our soldiers are ready and as they are sent into battle a night vision gun sight appears, and for once the screen goes green, filling the back wall as the 10 move around in the gloom, always protecting front, rear and flank as they go, all building up to a fire fight when one of their number is badly injured – the cost of combat.

Which brings us to the struggles and determination of a double amputee, a casualty of war, or which there are many, and the resolve and determination that turned him into a soldier is now needed to rebuild a shattered life.

It is a piece to takes us from raw recruits through to hardened soldiers and one that puts an everyman face on the bland Government casualty figures.

Along the way Kay has looked at not only issues of sexuality but also mental problems – the army doesn’t get a free pass on the human condition. She started this journey in 2008, joining exercises with the 4th Battalion The Rifles, time spent at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation entre at Headley Court and the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine at Selly Oak Hospital.

The result was 5 SOLDIERS in 2010 with the Army wary. Now 10 SOLDIERS, commissioned by Birmingham Hipodrome, has the full co-operation of the British Army, the dancers going on exercises to gain first hand experience of army life, and it has taken a fresh look at life for the modern soldiers, not that it is an army recruiting drive. It is just a snapshot of ordinary young men and women who are trained to put their bodies on the front line, to give a glimpse of  living on the guarded side of the barrack gates, or on patrol in hostile territory, or coming to terms with the cost of war to the individual..

Growing from five to ten, from studio to big stage has inevitably lost intimacy but gained in drama and impact to produce a visually compelling and thought provoking piece.

Roger Clarke

21-05-19 

10 SOLDIERS are deployed to Edinburgh Festival Theatre 30 May 2019 and  Norwich Theatre Royal 4 June 2019

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