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Review of Soldier On by Jonathan Lewis at the Playground Theatre

Soldier On cast: Shaun Johnson/Mark Griffin/Steve Morgan/ Cassidy Little/ Hayley Thompson / Mike Prior - Photo credit Harry Burton
Shaun Johnson/Mark Griffin/Steve Morgan/ Cassidy Little/ Hayley Thompson / Mike Prior – Photo credit Harry Burton

Written and directed by Jonathan Lewis and starring a mixture of ex-army and actors, Soldier On is about confronting the past and simultaneously leaving it behind. Many soldiers leave the army with anxieties, PTSD and other stress and trauma-related problems: Soldier On is continuing the conversation about dealing with the terrible things service men and women go through.

The story follows Hari (played excellently by David Solomon), an old actor from the 80s, as he attempts to put on a play for ex-servicemen and women in order to provide them with a way to deal with their depression, anxieties and other problems. Progress is unsteady as every member of the cast have their problems and grievances with each other and with the idea of the show, but eventually, they all come together for the performance.

Every character gets their moment to tell their story, and one gets the feeling that parts of the script may well have been verbatim, since Lewis is himself ex-service and so are half of the cast. Every actor delivers their piece with total commitment and genuineness: at times, uplifting, emotional, hilarious, it’s a real joy to see a cast commit so fully to a show. Special mention especially Nicholas Clarke, as Jacko, in one of the best performances I have seen for years: utterly believable, beautifully subtle, a truly wonderful thing to watch.

Half of the cast were trained actors and half were not and this showed at times: enthusiasm goes half the way to a good show, but occasionally the chemistry between the cast faded amid inexplicable anger or laughter. Cassidy Little, as Woody, as delivered every line with such commitment and charisma his performance became a little flat; Shaun Johnson, as ‘Flaps’, shouted every single one of his lines.

Some of Lewis’ script was a little clunky too: accompanying the slightly unimaginative but nonetheless emotionally wrought ending of the first act with Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’ is a terrible decision, full stop. And the range of issues dealt with, from domestic abuse to Asperger’s, divorce to self-harm and depression to sexuality and gender meant that the format became a little predictable at times.

However, the diversity of experiences and issues actually came to be the greatest strength of the production: PTSD and depression were dealt with in true Army fashion- no-nonsense and honest. Soldier On didn’t mess about getting to grips with such a difficult topic, but instead got straight to the point: depression affects everyone differently and everyone deals with it differently. The range of experiences presented here gave due respect to the simple truth that everyone’s experience is unique and true, and we should respect that.

4 stars

Review by Thomas Froy

What happens when a company of ex-soldiers becomes a company of actors? A theatrical band of brothers. Although it’s not a cure-all, the bonding, the humour, the theatre of war helps to put them back together again – as a company of veterans and actors rehearse a play about a company of veterans and actors. Although worlds apart they begin to realise there are more similarities between military life and the theatre than they bargained for, building a powerful new world of their own. This is a heartwarming story about surviving the forces and PTSD and what happens when you leave the military ‘family”.

by Jonathan Lewis
13th – 31st March 2018

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1 thought on “Review of Soldier On by Jonathan Lewis at the Playground Theatre”

  1. Loved the show. Thought many of the characters were awesome. Congrats to Jacko and Harry, they performed well. Thought the character Hoarse was good, but would have liked to have heard him a bit more. Defiantly bring a hanky

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