Artillery Square, Woolwich
At Greenwich and Docklands festival, Jenny Sealey directs a parade of theatre, song and aerial performance by war veterans
On a makeshift parade ground near Woolwich’s military base, 24 disabled war veterans who have served during the last 60 years line up for roll call: left arm paralysed; right leg below knee amputee; PTSD. They are joined by a handful of professional performers and bookended on the traverse stage by a community choir in this sprawling co-production by theatre company Graeae and limbless veterans charity Blesma. “Don’t let these things make you turn away,” the ensemble instruct us. “Just watch.”
Mike Kenny’s poetic script, depicting snippets of life after combat, is interspersed with classic war songs and original, sweeping composition by Oliver Vibrans. Though its stories are rooted in the first world war, it also explores the difficulties of returning to civilian life in the century since (a brief account of veterans resorting to begging could be extended) and the performance leaps between flashes of loneliness, guilt and anger.
Tina Carter’s aerial choreography, for which the cast have been specially trained, alludes to scenes of war, as the veterans clamber over scaffold-like structures. The metal bars adjust to form a train, a trench, a burial site. Flesh and metal support each other.