The first challenge which Daniel Hill's play presents the lay spectator is in accepting that the most efficacious way of treating battleshocked soldiers is now believed often to involve keeping them near the front; nip in the bud their feelings of guilt and post-traumatic stress towards their own families, runs the theory, by maintaining ties with their operational "family". The second challenge is in believing that the Battleshock Recovery Unit portrayed here in the midst of the Gulf War is any kind of advertisement for such an approach.
Hill presents us with a motley crew of Medical Corps psychiatric staff and Territorial medics with varying degrees of battle experience and readiness to adapt to their situation – camped by a desert munitions dump with one rickety tent, no transport and no medication, expecting an influx of 100 patients a day and eventually treating a single Welsh Guardsman, plus one of their own number.
The characters are carefully drawn from every region of the UK, suggesting perhaps the excessive influence of Elvis Costello's line about "the boys from the Mersey and the Thames and the Tyne". (It also keeps the production's dialect coach in steady work.) They launch at the drop of a gas mask into reveries about their home lives, be it Sgt. Willy Davis's lifetime of coming second (a fine performance by Mark Hadfield) or abrasive Christian Major Martin Cartlege's accounts of bringing up an autistic son (an experience shared by the playwright, whose brother-in-law moreover was a military consultant psyciatrist during the Gulf conflict). Despite an explicit reference to Journey's End, this aspect is more redolent of 1970s disaster movies in which each passenger on the airplane (or wherever) in turn unpacks their emotional baggage. The play's main element, the comedy of shambles, places it somewhere between M*A*S*H and Dick Lester's film How I Won The War; I kept half-expecting John Lennon to pop up and declare, "I'm excused Alamein on account of me feet."
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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