Pros: Gives a range of perspectives on war and the military.
Cons: Tries to address too many issues and in doing so, has no clear message.
The New Diorama stage is covered in cardboard boxes. Four people chat quietly as they organise and pack up belongings, as if they were a family preparing to move house. Having read the programme whilst waiting to enter the theatre, I looked out for the actors’ earpieces.
This performance relies on a form of verbatim theatre called, “recorded delivery.” The programme explains this is when, “recordings of the actual interview are played to the actors in earpieces on stage during the performance. Rather than learning lines, the actors respond to the material during the performance and retell their interviewees’ stories word-by-word and breath-by-breath.” Whilst I admit the idea of not having to learn lines is appealing, being able to juggle the listening and speaking at the same time must take some getting used to. I wondered if their speech would be slow and distracted, but it wasn’t. It didn’t have the polished feel of typical stage speech of a polished script. It was broken up, breathy and stumbling – like how we speak in our day-to-day life. It felt out of place on stage, but clearly drawn from real testimony.
The structure of the play consists of fragments of interviews with people affected by war, past and present. It also hears from some people who live in Wootton Bassett, a small town near an air force base that the repatriated remains of servicemen passed through between 2007 and 2011. Large public gatherings became a regular phenomenon when a dead solider passed through town. Bookending the play and interspersed throughout are scenes of three grown siblings (and one of their sons) packing up their deceased parents’ home. They are a military family, but the two bothers have strongly opposing views on war and the military, hinting at unresolved conflict. The problem here was that the individual stories had scope for an excellent narrative on their own, but the numerous excerpts did not allow for any of the characters to have a substantial journey. There was heaps of potential for development, but was hardly any rising conflict, climax and resolution for any of the characters’ stories. I could have happily watched a play about the family coming to terms with their parents death and each other, or a few of the Wootton Bassett characters, or the old man who spent WWII in Africa, but the production didn’t give any of them enough time to grow.
The main issue with this play is that it tries to say too much and in doing so, says very little. Author Neil Walker writes this is, “a play which raises the broader issues about acts of remembrance, the public’s relationship with the military and war, father-son relationships and individual identity. The play poses important questions about the ripple effect of loss through military conflict and what happens post-2014…” A one-act play needs only to examine one of these themes. Addressing so many does not give any of them the time they deserve. The consequence is that this play has no clear message. It was neither pro- nor anti-war, neither pro- nor anti-military. It merely played homage to characters who either were in the military, lived in a military family or in a place affected by the military. Paying homage or an act of remembrance takes a few minutes, perhaps half an hour or so. Trying to turn this act in a 90-minute play simply doesn’t work.
Do We Do the Right Thing? only had a two night run. Even though the theatre was full, this play may only really appeal to ex-servicemen and their families.
Director: Tommy Lexen
Writer: Neil Walker
Producer: BeFrank Theatre Company
Booking Until: 3-4 November 2014 (now closed)