A soldier sits in an anonymous room. He doesn’t know who he is. All he has for company is a bottle of whisky, a revolver with one bullet left and Cartwright, a psychotic figment of his imagination. That is, until Kate arrives and tells him his name is Ben and that they used to love each other. The Constant Soldier is a taut piece of new writing by Christopher Patrick that examines what happens to soldiers after the fighting has ended.
The Constant Soldier is a reasonably good modern tragedy that showcases Patrick’s emerging talents as well as those of the young cast. All have great potential but this time around, everything falls a little short.
It’s an intriguing setup but one that never really moves beyond its initial premise. Ben’s life is still a mystery, as is Kate who, if she is indeed real and not another product of Ben’s fragile mind, doesn’t shed any more light on her own life or precisely what “home” is for her and Ben. This ambiguity may well be intentional and it reflects Ben’s deteriorating sanity nicely, but it also means that we never really care for any of the characters; even Ben himself never really wins our sympathy as the acts he committed in the battlefield gradually emerge.
Having said that, there are some lovely details here: Ben listening to old vinyls to keep himself from losing it completely is an arresting image, as is repeatedly firing his empty gun at his head, knowing it won’t hurt him. The portrait painted is one of a man confused and lonely, broken by war, the atrocities he witnessed and those he took part in.
The performances are all generally solid and whilst nothing overly spectacular is on display, each actor brings their character to life with confidence. Christopher Jenks has the most to do as the troubled soldier and he acquits himself well, showing Ben’s internal struggle with ease. Hayley Bristow’s Kate is also impressive, as she struggles to come to terms with what Ben has become, while managing to keep a brave face. Charlie Graham has the most interesting role and his Cartwright is hammy and demented in all the right ways. Although he tends towards hysteria in the final moments, Graham fits the part well as the embittered personification of Ben’s ‘dark side’.
The Constant Soldier is a reasonably good modern tragedy that showcases Patrick’s emerging talents as well as those of the young cast. All have great potential but this time around, everything falls a little short. The result, unfortunately, is a drama that isn’t quite as important or hard-hitting as it thinks it is.