Playing Soldiers

Young company LUND have created a collage of testimonies from current, former and aspiring young servicemen and women in their new show Playing Soldiers. The show delves into the motivations of young people joining the army, and seems to probe the moral implications of recruiting these young people. It’s a sincere and thoughtful piece of research; knitting together interviews, excerpts from advertisements and documentaries. However, the show is largely let down by trying to do too much at once.

A very ambitious and interesting play.

The show opens to a promising pre-set, with search lights flashing around the auditorium, backpacks and water bottles dispersed across the stage, like a school playground. Over the speakers, recorded speech (some of the testimonies used in the show itself) can be heard echoing. Lighting and sound are used well throughout, imaginatively accentuating tension and drama. A particular highlight is the use of torches to light one performer during a monologue. However, as with movement and blocking, lighting is occasionally overdone, and could have done with a more naturalistic stance at moments.

All of the acting is commendable, particularly Matti Rowe, who takes on the speech of a woman faced by sexist comments and attitudes with great naturalism and insight. There are some nice moments throughout the show, particularly a hilarious sequence showing online chats between aspiring and current servicemen and women. There’s also some clever business, such as using keyboards for guns, and the reenactments of recruitment adverts are used effectively to split up testimonies.

However, there’s also very little structural narrative, and director Connor Abbott has been exceptionally ambitious in his approach to staging. Soldiers marching, for example, or someone singing and playing guitar whilst another performer is delivering a monologue is distracting. There’s simply too much going on to focus on the words being spoken. On top of this, the testimonies chosen often jar with one another, such as a letter written in 1914.

Use of physical theatre and music are occasionally well-judged, but at times also seem somewhat superfluous to affect, and physical movement isn’t as slick as it could be. It’s not style over substance in the most common sense of the phrase: the play has a huge amount of substance. Unfortunately, excessive stylings overshadow this and sometimes distract from the words, as opposed to aiding the storytelling. Music, movement, smoke and costumes are all thrown wholeheartedly at the verbatim speech, and though at moments the images are impressive, the performance is left somewhat confused. Playing Soldiers is a very ambitious and interesting play. However, a confused and overstated performance ultimately eclipses the heart of their message.

Reviews by Ellie Coote

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★★
Assembly Hall

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★★★
C venues - C

Playing Soldiers

★★
C venues - C

All Might Seem Good

★★★
Paradise in The Vault

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★★★★
Liquid Room Annexe

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★★★

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The Blurb

‘I’ve always wanted to, always wanted to do that... I’ve got photos of me as a child four foot high dressed up as Action Man’. Would you sacrifice everything for your country? Using verbatim testimony from current, former and aspiring servicemen and women, Playing Soldiers is a candid, provocative look at young people’s will to enlist in the armed forces.

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