There’s a feeling of familiarity and deja vu with Steven Dykes’ war drama, Glockenspiel, which opened at London’s Tristan Bates Theatre last night.
The play, set in modern-day America during the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, condemns a country’s lack of support to its troops once they complete their tours of duty.
It proves, if nothing else, that the US has learned nothing since engaging in the Vietnam War 60 years ago.
But it also strikes a chord with us because exactly the same situation is happening in the UK. Young men and women are tempted into the armed services with bribes of vocational training and offers to pay university fees, only to find that you’re on your own once you are out.
“This flag is presented on behalf of a grateful nation and the United States Army as a token of appreciation for your loved one’s honourable and faithful service.”
A guard hands over an immaculately folded flag to the relatives of the deceased. It ought to be a moment of pride. Instead Glockenspiel seethes with anger and indignation at the waste of life.
The play isn’t about those lost in battle but a trio of characters who died before and after serving their country, in ways that were preventable and unnecessary.
It’s a topic much in the news yet, despite forays into finding solutions, governments still largely turn a blind eye to the aftermath of war.
This production, from the up-and-coming Old Sole Theatre Company, is occasionally let down by Dykes’ lapses into cliché and, yes, it must be said, his far-from-eloquent floral passages involving sex, both spoken and performed.
There are a few lines, spoken between Jon Parry’s horny professor, Josh, his girlfriend, Zinnie (Coren Lawrence) and “grieving” widow, trailer park trash Eloise (Katie Glaister), which should find the writer and director fast-tracked for the Bad Sex Award in Literature.
The vulnerability of the women is a huge turn-on for Josh and a chance to exert his rampant libido, first by violently “comforting” Zinnie and then by servicing her sister-in-law on a hard dining chair during the wake (while checking his cellphone).
Parry’s technique is as cumbersome and uncomfortable as his dialogue.
But perhaps that’s the point. There’s nothing sophisticated or elegant about a lot of people’s lives. Often they’re messy and complicated.
Glockenspiel is a well told story, with strands from four groups of people knitted together through the framework of death, rites and rituals. The performances from this engaging ensemble of nine young and rising stars doesn’t disappoint.
Parys Jordon, recently memorable in Romeo & Juliet at the Rose Bankside, gives a quietly underplayed performance as the funeral director’s assistant who nurses his own demons.
But it is the women who have the strong roles – motormouth Debs (Tolu Stedford) and her friend Yolanda, journalist Justine (Hebe Renard) and the honour guard captain Carmen.
Debs gets ready for a funeral. She gabbles on to Yolanda (Laura Asare) about people and situations that YoYo knows nothing about since she long fled her childhood home.
The brave Debra talks to deflect the pain. We hear her story, and those of the others involved, drip-fed throughout the play. Her loved one died, without seeing combat, in a hospital bed after a reaction to a vaccination given.
Shockingly, we hear, all 1.5m active personnel are given shots with one person in 10,000 dying as a result. It is considered acceptable collateral damage. Who knew?
A marine struggles with PTSD, another kills himself, while a third dies during “active” service. The dialogue (ignoring the sex scenes) is funny, intense, emotional and filled with outrage, dignity and incredulity.
Only one person, Zinnie, rails against the war while Carmen (Lolade Rufai) explodes with unbridled rage at those opposing military intervention. She’s army through and through.
The compelling Glockenspiel raises a lot of questions while drawing you into the lives of a group of ordinary people affected by extraordinary circumstances. Not all victims, it seems, die on the battlefield.
Running at the Tristan Bates Theatre until January 14.
The hidden casualties of war are given a voice in Steven Dykes well-acted, uncompromising drama, Glockenspiel, at London’s Tristan Bates Theatre.