‘The Two Worlds of Charlie F’ by Owen Sheers
Malvern Theatres 2 April 2014
Reviewed by Lee Farley
‘THE TWO Worlds of Charlie F’ is a new play performed by a mix of theatre professionals and wounded, injured and sick ex-military personnel. It brings together the “two worlds” of theatre and the military in a fascinating and ambitious way.
The production uses a comprehensive collection of theatrical techniques as part of its ingenious structure. Video screens, silhouettes, song and dance numbers, direct address, actors changing characters, loud sound effects. No theatrical device is left unused. The impact of this methodology is initially disorientating but ultimately successful in absorbing us in the “two worlds” concept. Brecht would have loved it. It?s almost post-Brecht.
The stories told by the ex-soldiers are interesting and, of course, moving, but they?re familiar enough if you?ve seen National Theatre of Scotland?s “Black Watch”, the film “The Hurt Locker” or read Sebastian Junger?s terrific “War”. This production, however, succeeds on its own terms by bringing something entirely original to the stories – it blends truth and reality with fiction and theatre as part of its structure. The work is distinctive and compelling.
There are moments here which compel you to acknowledge that you are watching real soldiers telling real stories and, amazingly enough, the moments when this strikes most powerfully are when the production?s theatrical devices are in full effect. For example, the song about the wounded soldiers? medication draws the audience to the plaintive faces of the non-actors who are committed to delivering this superficial musical number. There is also a section of physical theatre performed by the female actors and the soldiers in wheelchairs to the Anthony and the Johnsons song “Hope There?s Someone”, which contains the most powerful imagery and authentic heartbreak I?ve seen in the theatre for years.
‘The Two Worlds of Charlie F’ tells candid and inspiring stories of soldiers wounded in combat. Astonishingly, though, the production?s lasting impact remains the way it explores content as part of its context. The two worlds are brought together to finally remind us that there?s only one world. This is theatre stretching boundaries, creating new forms. A must see.