I heard about The Two Worlds of Charlie F while listening to Radio 2, on the way home from work one evening. Ray Winstone was being interviewed, predominantly about his role in the movie Noah, and his involvement in the performance came up. It piqued my interest, a play involving ex-service men and women and professional actors, patronised by the great Ray Winstone, definitely a must see I thought. As soon as I got home I rang my Dad, suggesting we should get tickets for it. It turned out we already had, as Dad had thought it might be relevant to the War poetry topic I had been teaching to my year 9s.
And so, last night, after our customary pre-show dinner at Jamie’s Italian (delish truffle tagliatelle followed by a smashing pavlova) we trotted off to the Theatre Royal in Norwich for the opening night.
The Two Worlds of Charlie F is a joint venture between The Theatre Royal Haymarket Masterclass Trust, The Royal British Legion and the MOD’s Defence Recovery Capability. The original idea came from Alice Driver, the Masterclass Creative Producer and was written by the award-winning poet and playwright Owen Sheers. It tells stories from a number of military men and women and provides a soldier’s view of their experiences from enrolment to discharge and then coping with the ensuing physical and mental impact.
It is an incredibly powerful and eye opening performance. From the opening scene where you are introduced to an as yet unknown soldier, seen only as a silhouette through ‘hospital’ screens, you learn about the physical and mental suffering each individual has undergone.
During the course of the performance, you discover what drew these men and women to enrolling, from Lance Corporal Charlie Fowler (played by Marine Cassidy Little) who did it as a ‘dare’, to Lance Corporal Simi Yeates (played by Lance Corporal Maurillia Simpson) who, as a child growing up in Trinidad and Tobago, dreamed of one day becoming a soldier and living where the Queen lives. Gradually you see what life is like for the soldiers posted in countries like Afghanistan, what it means to receive a letter from home and how they become family to those they are posted with. Throughout, audience members are shocked by sudden explosions and gunfire, making them jump out of their seats – a small taster of what it must be like to live in a war zone. Through stories and song and the occasional dance sequence, the truth of what life is like for a soldier, on active duty, emerges.
If I had to pick just one play, of all those I have reviewed and seen, to recommend to people, it would be this one, for not only is it engaging and moving, it is a performance that invokes quiet contemplation followed by active discussion. At home Mum and I sat up for quite some time, discussing the stories and our reactions to them. We discussed it again today and I expect we shall continue to do so in the future. It’s a play that challenges you and makes you challenge yourself. When interviewed about his hopes for the performance, Rifleman Daniel Shaw, who plays Rifleman Leroy Jenkins (no, not that Leeroy Jenkins!), said he hoped it would educate people, that although everyone hears about the fatalities of war not enough is said about the wounded servicemen and women, and what they go through. For this reason I urge everyone to get themselves to a performance, while you are laughing (because in places it really is damn funny) and probably crying, you are also learning more about these incredible men and women.
In its simplest form, The Two Worlds of Charlie F is a play about suffering, on a deeper level it is about learning to cope in two apparently different worlds, that of the military, or the theatre, or at home. The title hints at this all along, Charlie F’s two worlds can be interpreted in a number of ways, his life before and after injury, home compared to Afghanistan, the nightmare world of his dreams against the nightmare world of rehabilitation and yet, by the end you realise, these worlds are all the same. In Charlie’s own words “we don’t live in two worlds do we? We live in one.”