Theatre Review: The Two Worlds of Charlie F

Charlie F

I’m struggling to find words to describe this play that don’t sound completely trite or overly effusive.

Why?

Because it was, with out a doubt, one of the best plays I’ve ever seen.

Mainly because it isn’t just a play. The majority of the men and women on the stage are UK Armed Forces personnel – some still serving, some not – who have suffered debilitating injuries. What you see are their stories, as told by them.

The play started life as part of a rehabilitation programme for wounded service personnel and ended up wowing the critics, winning the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award and playing to sold out audiences during its first run in 2012. Now, due to popular demand, it’s on tour.

I’m so very glad it is. I couldn’t look away from the stage and often couldn’t swallow past the lump in my throat as they drew me into their world and I got lost in their memories. I spent quite a lot of time dabbing at my eyes. I laughed a lot too, though; there’s a reason British Forces have such a reputation for their sense of humour.

The play is visceral, it is real – oh, it’s so very, very real – and is one of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever had. A lot of you will know how much of my time I’ve spent researching the Afghanistan Conflict, trying to understand what it is like for the soldiers who serve. So you will realise just what I mean to convey when I say that this has given me a better grasp of just what it was like to be there – to experience such horrific injuries and to embrace the possibility of death – than all those hours of reading, talking on forums, and watching DVD documentaries have ever managed.

I think – I was at the front and didn’t turn round to check, too busy clapping like a mad thing – that the entire theatre gave them a standing ovation last night. It was very much deserved and I know I wasn’t the only one who left with a pocket full of damp tissues and a much greater appreciation of just what our forces endure in the name of duty.
The other, truly wonderful, things I left the performance with were prints of these, which speak to me much the same way as the play did:

Pink Mist by Stewart Hill  The World of Charlie F

They were painted by Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Stewart Hill, formerly of the Royal Regiment of Wales, and one of the actors in the play. He suffered a shrapnel wound to the back of his brain and has used painting as part of his rehabilitation. His work was on display in the foyer of the theatre and prints were available to purchase after the performance. The pictures link directly to Stewart’s website, where you can see more of his work and what else he is involved with.

The Two Worlds of Charlie F is on tour, through Canada and the UK, currently playing at The Wolverhampton Grand until this Saturday (29th March 2014).

You can find the rest of the tour dates at The Charlie F website and you can also follow them on Twitter – @CharlieF_Tour.
Please go and see it. They are an amazing group of people, telling a story that everyone needs to hear, and who deserve every success.

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