Much Further Out Than You Thought
Underbelly Big Belly
What manner of men are these…
…Who wear the maroon-red berets…
…These are men apart every man an emperor
As a boy I grew up reading those small square comic books called Commando, which gave my impressionable boyish mind a window into the manly doings of the British soldiers of World War Two. Rolling on into maturity, I have replaced my comics for high culture, & it was through the windows of Athenian dramaturgy that I experienced the campaigning of a modern British soldier – Lance Corporal James Randall. Admittedly dressed like Murdoch from the A-Team, we find him speaking to his nine-year old son in the front room of his house, his traumatised yet virile & active mind leaping through his Tours of Duty in the Afghani province of Helmand, the last of which had taken place six years previously.
To spend an hour with Lance-Corporal Randall’s animated & intelligent flashbacking descriptions of his life as a soldier is a great pleasure, especially on the two occasions he soliloquies through action-packed scenes during his Tours, you really do feel like you are on patrol with him. Perfectly poetic descriptions of fragrant poppy-fields & nervy encounters in intel-laden villages, I could have been at the court of Leonidas with the rhapsodes singing their tales of Homeric wars. When the action wasn’t booming from Randall’s flawless diction, he would ad a cute reality to the drama – using paper-planes & action men to gloss out the tale for his young son.
This is an excellent piece of theatre, which continues to resonate long after the set fades to black. It also raises the issue of the change which going to war inevitably induces in a man. At one point in the play, Randall describes how he wrote death-letters to his loved ones, placing them in silver envelopes before heading off to Helmand. They were to be given to his nearest & dearest upon his demise – but by the end of watching the play, we detect that the vernal-faced Randall did indeed die in Afghanistan, to be replaced by a highly medicated, deeply disturbed individual. FOUR STARS
Reviewer : Damo Bullen