The job of actors and actresses is to empathise to the highest level in order to identify with, and in turn, convey their character as realistically as possible. However, it’s not often that the fictional character being played is a non-fictional representation of the actor’s own experience. For Canadian, Cassidy Little(Charlie F), and the rest of the cast, this illusion of realism is not an illusion at all. Little relives his own experience on stage every night as he depicts a wounded ex-serviceman who has lost his right leg while on active service in Afghanistan. Little was a Royal Marine who lost his leg in a bomb-blast serving in Afghanistan in 2011.
In The Two Worlds of Charlie F. The actors and actresses all depict their own injuries as their characters, ranging from double and single amputees to spinal cord injury, to permanent brain damage to PTSD.
The play is a precedent for all military-themed theatre as this is the first time a theatre company has been allowed access to wounded military personnel. The Ministry of Defence has, in the past, been concerned about how physically and mentally disabled service men and women may be depicted or exploited by the world of performing arts. I must admit, I was apprehensive about whether a play could do justice to such personal and painfully life-changing experiences without simply exploiting the stories to create a dramatisation for aesthetic effect.
Instead, what evolved before me as I watched was an incredibly powerful and poignant story, so private and personal to those who had experienced it that I felt as if I was privileged in being admitted into a world of feelings which I could not even begin to comprehend.
However, it wasn’t as if the audience were intruding on the experiences of those who have been wounded fighting for their country. The play’s identifiable humanity is clear and deliberate. The humour; the colloquialisms; the unfiltered emotions and personal representations of life on the front line all serve to provide the public with an insight into the lives of military personnel from a previously unseen perspective. And perspective is the all-important element. The play is performed on a stage like any other play, acknowledging it’s loose fictionality. But the realism of the actors’ disabilities and personal emotions and experiences are things which cannot just be ‘acted’. Their reality provides a public perspective which allows the exploration of the consequences, the life after being wounded in service; beyond that which we see depicted in the media.
The theatre company originally started as a recovery project for wounded, injured and sick (WIS) soldiers from all over the Commonwealth who had been medically discharged from service. It was delivered thanks to a partnership between the Theatre Royal Haymarket Masterclass Trust, the Royal British Legion and the Defence Recovery Capability. The success of the project and the lifted embargo on the use of wounded servicemen and women in theatre performances is the element which renders this play so profound and emotionally loaded.
|Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
Yet, this is not a play which feels sorry for itself. The story is not one of self-pity or internalisation of trauma. The play follows not only the loss and psychological impact, but also the acceptance, rehabilitation and recovery process of those injured in service and their families. As lead character, Charlie F, describes it: “it’s the same process they teach you in basic training: Adapt and overcome.”
As the daughter of an ex-Royal Marine who also sustained an injury during service, the play felt terrifyingly close to home with possibilities that I had never considered nor wanted to consider. But the portrayal of the journey that young servicemen and women endure after injury was one filled with hope and humanity; as the success of the Charlie F recovery project demonstrates. This isn’t just a play for our benefit and insight, but also for all the servicemen and women involved, it is part of their own process of recovery. In an interview with Nottingham Evening Post, Cassidy Little describes the impact the theatre company has had on his recovery: “All of them are great friends of mine. I don’t know what I would have done without them. They have given me a purpose again.”The actors were all rewarded with a standing ovation at the end of their performance. One of the few times that it can be said that a standing ovation was given for more than just their performance on the stage.For more information visit: http://www.charlie-f.com/