Stories based on truth are always the most difficult to watch, so a play that offers a frank and disturbing look at the post-war lives of soldiers, which has been created from conversations had with real ex-servicemen, is as harrowing as they come.
This is Glory Dazed, Cat Jones’ award-winning drama about a former soldier who brings the violence of Afghanistan home to his life in Doncaster. Anger and aggression have taken over and Ray’s relationship with his family has fallen apart; his wife has left him, he can’t see his children and he’s wanted by the police. So, when he turns up at the pub owned by his ex-wife’s new lover – who also happens to be his best mate – it comes as no surprise that tempers fly.
In fact, saying tempers fly is an understatement. It is almost possible to see the anger radiate from the body of Samuel Edward-Cook’s Ray, whose presence consumes the Soho theatre’s stage like he does the pub’s supply of vodka. With so much aggression and brutality pent up inside him, his energetic performance – a potent combination of menacing laughter and physical violence – is as disturbing as it is arresting, yet somehow, from the depths of his rage, come glimmers of humour that create an eerie atmosphere on stage.
Kristin Atherton’s impressionable Leanne, Chloe Massey’s sometimes sympathetic Carla and Adam Foster’s meek Simon all make for a striking contrast against Edward-Cook’s threatening Ray, who inflicts on them not only physical violence but mental scarring as he retells the distressing stories of his time on the battlefield. But, while it is possible to view Ray solely as a perpetrator of violence, Jones’ striking depiction warrants sympathy from the audience, allowing him to be seen also as a victim of his haunting experiences.
If these images of conflict, which are painted so vividly throughout the play, prove this hard-hitting for us, it is terrifying to think what effect the real-life memories must have on the soldiers themselves. That this tale has been created from discussions involving ex-servicemen serving time in prison makes the intense 70 minutes of Elle While’s polished production a great deal harder to stomach.