Thursday, 18 October 2012
Pvt. Wars at the Baby Grand
Last night I went to see PVT. Wars at the Grand Opera House. Produced by up and coming new theatre company Pintsized Productions, directed by Terry Keeley and written by James McLure, the play stars 3 of NI's best young actors - Martin McCann, Chris Robinson and Gerard McCabe.
The 3 characters Silvio, Natwick and Gately are Vietnam veterans, scarred by their experiences both physically and mentally. They are all voluntary admitted psychiatric patients in a veteran's hospital and while the war is barely mentioned, the experiences the men went through ensures the ghost of war is always present.
McLure is a talented playwright. His use of comedy is measured, well placed and timed to perfection. One particular scene where Silvio tries to teach Gatley how to pick up a girl has the audience in stitches. Despite the laughter though, our knowledge of Silvio's extreme injury ensures that there is an undercurrent of despair to this scene that only serves to highlight the characters' pain. McLure reinforces the point numerous times in the play that the men could leave anytime, but the outside world terrifies them. There doesn't seem to be a way out for them. Even when it appears Silvio might leave, a letter comes which destroys his chances of getting away. The hopelessness portrayed in this scene is particularly vivid.
The characters are well developed, but stereotypical. Natwick is a privileged posh, cultured man, Silvio is a macho swaggering Italian-American and Gately an innocent country boy. The three men however have the war and their mental problems in common. Natwick is neurotic, suicidal but not brave enough to kill himself, Gately spends the whole play obsessively trying to fix a radio and Silvio shows clear psychotic tendencies and a fixation on flashing women. It is clear as we head to the end of the play that actually the only thing keeping these three men grounded is their uneasy friendship, despite their obvious differences.
This show is a credit to the abilities of all three actors. The hilarity of the pranks, the sex jokes and the comic misunderstandings is always underpinned by sadness and despair. We may laugh but we never forget that these are three fragile damaged souls.
Gerard McCabe's innocent Gately is the anchor of the play. Without him you feel the other characters could not be friends however uneasy that friendship might be. He both begins and ends the play and his reflection on the sunrise in the last scene just adds to the anguish of the veterans' situation.
Chris Robinson plays Natwick's depression to perfection. He is terrified to stay in the world but equally terrified to leave it through suicide. One scene where Natwick attempts to make Silvio like him is particularly good and highlights the actors' impeccable comic timing.
Martin McCann, who has not been on a theatre stage for 6 years, encapsulated Silvio's character precisely. Of all the characters, Silvio is the most dangerous. It can't be easy to play a psychotic character and still make the audience want to take you home and protect you!
The play was written not long after the Vietnam war and the public were aware of the difficulties veterans' had returning to society. Today we still have young men and women returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan. We still hear stories of veterans being made homeless, of high suicide rates and not enough help being available. The stigma attached to living with a mental illness does not help and still exists today. It's clear that the central messages of McLure's play are still relevant.
PVT. Wars continues at the Grand Opera House until Saturday 20th October. Please go along and support this young company. Click here to book.