There aren’t many plays like Delivery, which successfully navigates through some very serious subjects whilst eliciting laugh out loud laughter from the audience – and without leaving theatregoers feeling even slightly guilty about chortling away at something they’ve just witnessed.
Joseph (Alex Walton) is one of those friendly people, a cheeky chappie if you will, who might not have done very well academically but is streetwise and practical. Getting a decent job, however, is not easy without qualifications, but he does find something to keep himself going.
Joe (as he is known to his friends and acquaintances), meets Angela (Lizzie Aaryn-Stanton), who impressed him with her working knowledge of the offside rule. But she has concerns when he decides to join the Armed Forces, immediately pointing out how many war memorials there are in the vicinity, some with members of her own family line-listed. “The trouble with armies is that they get used,” she muses. There’s an acerbic wit in Joe that is commensurate with a soldier who is very much one of the lads, and while a relatively small-scale production will inevitably leave some of the horrors of the battlefield to the audience’s imagination, the show does well to portray key events in Joe’s experiences.
The war in question isn’t explicitly mentioned (though according to the show’s programme, the play draws heavily from the experiences of Stuart Cardy, who participated in active service in Northern Ireland and the Falklands War), and what goes on could well apply to any situation involving enemy combat. Interestingly, a padre (Gordon Peaston) successfully shoots a target from over a mile away, and there’s a harrowing moment when a young man from the ‘other’ side (Emilio Iannucci) wants to bring the body of a deceased relative ‘home’, Joe is overruled by a superior officer, who insists the rules about no luggage must be strictly enforced. What happens as a consequence results not only in an unexpected twist in the narrative but also has a lasting impact on Joe.
The play then depicts Joe’s posttraumatic stress disorder, which he says was delayed on account of his regiment returning to Britain on a cruise ship. This allowed the soldiers with downtime to let out their aggression and other feelings before trying to adjust to life at home, whilst soldiers who flew back didn’t have much of an opportunity to gather their thoughts before being reunited with their families.
So where does the laughter come in? Some of it comes from the Army banter, and in the loving correspondence between Joe and Angela. But most of it comes from the absurd dramatization of Joe’s inner thoughts, in which at various points he finds himself having conversations with members of the animal kingdom, including a fruit fly, a slug and a philosophical sheep (don’t ask). Joe struggles to readjust to ‘life on civvy street’, and it becomes clear he’s not the only one – the casualty list in the years following the war is higher than it was during the war itself, on account of ex-soldiers being taken by their own hand. He was offered help, but claimed at the time he didn’t need it, which says something about the general bravado that some people like to display for whatever reason.
The costumes are very good, particularly those of the animals, and the play’s title is derived from Angela having been admitted to a hospital’s labour ward. Angela goes through the wide range of emotions, palpably upset the first time Joe leaves home in Army uniform (even if, as he points out, he’s only going to Aldershot), to sheer elation when he returns home from military operations.
Walton’s Joe, meanwhile, has an incredibly engaging manner and excellent stage presence, which no doubt contributes to the success of this quirky and bold yet accessible show. Riveting from beginning to end.
Review by Chris Omaweng
“We’ve lost more men since we got back than we did in the war”
Father to be, Joe, waits for the birth of his first child. He sees his wife Angela as his soul mate, but he’s not sure if he’s ready, responsible, or worthy enough to be a father.
As he waits, their courtship, his failure at school, his success in the army and his trauma in a modern day war unfolds, as well as meeting a talking fruit fly, sheep and a slug.
Delivery, is a tragic comic story of one man’s journey to the brink.
Delivery10th March – 4th April 2020Written by Andy Walker
Directed by Lesley Manning