The war in Afghanistan has claimed over 400 British soldiers’ lives since 2001. The devastating effects of conflict do not end when active service ceases. According to a news report seven days ago, in 2012 more British soldiers and veterans took their own lives than died fighting in Afghanistan that year.
Casualties of War is brave and timely. Its subject matter is huge. Its characters are complex, its situations shocking and unfamiliar. The three writers faced an additional problem: the need for concision. Thirty minutes or less is demands a highly disciplined focus. Yet the issues spread outwards, ever more muddied.
Furthermore, although Tania Higgins’ direction was assured, and the seven members of The Deck Theatre Company showed great versatility in portraying contrasting characters, it still felt like an observed experience, not what the writers knew.
Heather Dunmore’s "Red" worked well on stage, and set up an intriguing series of conversations between two Afghani asylum seekers, and two British officials, one charged with their present care, and one with determining their future. The finely balanced need to establish truth and trust in an encounter of mutual skepticism evoked all kinds of possibilities and game-playing. ‘I did what you said. I told a story,’ the veiled, enigmatic Haneefa (Haneefa Armstrong) tells Harry, her well meaning British hostel manager (Benji Mingh). ‘But you told the immigration officer the truth?’ Harry presses her.
Swaggering Fahed (Sanjay Sutar) gets off on the wrong foot from the start. Only sixteen, he looks older. ‘Why are you here?’ he challenges the immigration officer (Sarah Wilkins). ‘You should be at home.’ She is a woman, after all. Ultimately, Haneefa’s hints and silences elicit more pity than Fahed’s robust truths.
Catherine Comfort’s play "White" examines the effect of post traumatic stress on a wounded soldier (David Pustansky) whose comrade is missing – but possibly still alive. His sun-damaged eyes are covered by a white bandage, but is his suffering worth nothing more than a white feather? Lucy Hoult’s sympathetic Nurse Berry plays good cop to Alex Babic’s abrasive doctor.
Gwilym Scourfield’s ambition embraced the supernatural, when "Blue" unleashed a Russell Brand wise-cracking genie, who had witnessed all the conflicts in the world, past and present, and had a poor view of humanity’s ability to change. Yet for all our shortcomings, Pustansky’s flamboyant figure preferred the freedom of our flawed world to the confines of his priceless Etruscan bottle.
The audience was enthusiastic and appreciative. The task was tough, never lacking ambition. For this reviewer, the breakthrough moment of truthful, quiet observation never came.