When the soldier goes to war what of those left behind? This is the question posed by InValid Voices, a new theatre piece based on interviews with women serving as and married to Commonwealth soldiers in the British Army. Writer and director Helen-Marie O’Malley is one such person, wed to a Fijian veteran.
Resonates with truth
The play is set at the end of March 2013. The First Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland, The Royal Scots Borderers (1 Battalion) have recently been told, while still on deployment, that they and their families are being relocated from Edinburgh to Belfast, the Regiment having been based in the Scottish capital since 1633. The ensuing upheaval is just one example of the turmoil that so often faces people whose lives are committed to the military.
Cath (MJ Deans) explains the sense of loss of her Highland heritage as a result of regimental restructuring. Tima (Bernie Johansen Baselala), a native of Fiji, shares her experience as a serving British soldier in Iraq. Heather (Catherine Elliot) describes how her husband survived a fatal ambush in Afghanistan. Together they offer insights into life as part of a forces family and the particular experience of Commonwealth soldiers. Their tales are interspersed with music and stories that reflect ancient wisdom and prophecy from Fiji and Scotland with projections of tropical landscapes contrasted with nightmare flashes of harrowing experiences.
Around twenty minutes if this piece is verbatim theatre that recounts the daily stress of being the partner waiting at home for news of your loved one and the frequent adjustments that have to be made to everyday life to accommodate military expedience. Particularly vivid are the scenes that depict the anxiety, tension, relief and guilt this elicits. The phone text that says “If you are receiving this message your soldier is safe. There has been a fatality. Next of kin have been informed” provides momentary comfort that is followed by the anguish of wondering which of your friends are neighbours received the opposite message.
The play also highlights the financial cost to recruits from overseas who wish to remain in the UK after serving and the difficulties they have in progressing through the immigration system. Racism is also part of their experience: when in civvies an overseas soldier looks like any other immigrant; there is no badge that says, “I risked my life for you and your country”. Neither is anyone aware of the possible suffering endured from post traumatic stress.
The play is simply staged with mats and boxes. In places the text falls foul of the pitfalls associated with verbatim material and the urge to educate people. The casual conversations often fail to reach the level of theatrical performance and the didactic dialogue frequently sounds like a series of information announcements. Occasional hesitancy in the pace will probably be overcome as the run progresses.
In a post-performance discussion it was obvious that InValid Voices resonates with truth and accurately depicts the situations it describes. Those closely involved with the forces will easily identify with what the characters say. For the rest it is a valid insight into an easily overlooked aspect of serving one’s country.