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PVT Wars, The Space – Review

James McLure
Directed by Naomi Wirthner
★★★★

Pros: A funny and sad performance that is very well thought-out.

Cons: An ending that could have been shorter, and sharper.

Our Verdict: A very poignant look at the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the destruction left behind both physically and emotionally. 

Courtesy of the Barebones Project
PVT wars takes place in one of my favourite London venues, The Space, a lovely former church in Mudchute. The always-friendly staff and bar staff are a joy and you can happily bring drinks and breadsticks (the bar snack) into the theatre. This is good, as a 7:30 start means beer and breadsticks are this reviewer’s dinner.

However, once the play starts, eating and drinking are thoroughly off my mind.

The auditorium you enter has haunting photos from the Vietnam War papering the walls, and a mix of 60s era music interspersed with jungle noises and explosions to add to the atmosphere.

Signs on doors warn that the opening scene is intense; they aren’t kidding. The theatre is plunged into darkness whilst sounds of war grow louder and louder, closer and closer. It’s a very full on experience and it’s very uncomfortable, for good reason. We are being briefly thrown into the smallest hint at what a Vietnam veteran would have experienced. It’s a smart build up to meeting our three main characters. We’ve seen a snippet of what they have seen and promptly offer them our empathy as a result.

The play consists of short scenes of the three wounded but ‘functional’ soldiers interacting with each other. Within the confines of the hospital that houses them, they recover from their physical and as importantly, psychological wounds. The scenes are well acted, despite some not completely convincing American accents and dialects and are a mix of poignant, amusing and at times, very, very funny. The scene where Silvio tries to teach Woody how to pick up a woman is downright hilarious.

The scene is set with a table and chairs and a white wall and overhang, which absorb the light nicely. The lighting, which switches on and off entirely between short scenes, appropriately varies between bright and delicately soft and is particularly good in the movie flashbacks.

Gary Wright’s Woody is the hinge on which the performance turns. His deadpan, calm, unenthusiastic but yet quietly optimistic character, provides a wonderful sounding board for the trials and tribulations of the other characters. His steadfast belief that he will okay if he can fix a radio is full of innocence and naivety and yet is symbolic of the underlying theme of the play.

Wright’s character tells us that “If I can fix this radio, I can fix America” and in doing so, he portrays this wonderful idea that if you can control the space around you, you are working towards fixing the world. He stays focused on the hope that his radio repair can “fix America”- even though his friends steal the parts to delay him and kill his dream at every turn. Reason being, if he fixes the radio, he too will be fixed and will then leave the hospital and leave his friends.

The play is an interesting observation of the stagnation of a people, caused by a war that many still believe was not relevant to the foreign troops involved in it. The characters regularly interlude to this, as do the promotional materials which offer the quote “If everyone just fought their own private wars then everything would be alright. But no! People have to stick their noses into other people’s wars…” Is this a thought that takes relevance today? Very possibly, it’s certainly an interesting consideration.

It’s a good production and I only have one critique (bar the accents), which is that the end, I felt as if it were filled with less than important details to draw it out and added an unnecessary length to a production that otherwise handles time very well. The simplicity, childlike honesty and wonder of Woody, make up what is so delightful about this production and so it needs no bells and whistles added on.

The subject matter is a bit grown up and sexual at times, but this is sure to be of interest to any ages, genders and nationalities who have been exposed to war. Sadly, that would include just about everyone, making this a very topical piece indeed.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

PVT Wars runs at The Space until 5th October 2013.
Box Office: 0207 515 7799 or book online at Space.Org.Uk

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Founded in 2011, Everything Theatre started life as a pokey blog run by two theatre enthusiasts and – thanks to the Entry Pass Scheme for 16-25 year olds – regular National Theatre goers. Today, we are run by part-time volunteers from a wide array of backgrounds. Among our various contributors are people who work in theatre, but also people who work in law, medicine, events, marketing and even psychiatry! We are all united by our love for the London theatre scene.