Originally written for IdeasTap.
While his friends come home in coffins and wheelchairs, Ray knows that war can make you lose something other than life or limb. Returning to Doncaster with frustrated aggression and tortured memories, the only thing that Ray is any good at these days is fighting. But there’s no memorial service or prosthetic aid for being messed up in the head.
As Ray returns to the local boozer in a misguided attempt to win back ex-wife Carla, the bar becomes a vodka-doused pressure cooker in this new piece from Second Shot Productions, stitched together by writer Cat Jones with help from ex-servicemen at HMP & YOI Doncaster prison. Knocking back shots with Carla, old mate and pub landlord Simon and ditzy barmaid Leanne, the invisible wounds begin to split open and weep.
The production is knotted together by an explosive performance from Samuel Edward-Cook as “wounded lion” Ray. Dripping with sweat and radiating aggression, he is as pathetic as he is dangerous, yet still with a spark in his eyes that hints at former charm. Like Carla, we are unable to fully detach our sympathies, no matter how broken and violent he becomes.
This is not the first piece of theatre, or even the only piece of theatre in Edinburgh this year, to tackle the bitter legacy of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Where it demonstrates nuance, however, is in its dissection of the relationship between the world of war and the domestic battlefield. As terrifying and as impossible to understand as warfare may be, Jones does not play down the struggle and drudge of everyday life, a drudge that might just be enough to make someone prefer the danger that war entails.
We are also left staring down the barrel of the bleak fact that no one really cares. The struggle goes on in the warzones and the suburban streets and all we do is sit and watch The X Factor on a Saturday night. In more than one sense, this loaded production departs with the perception that the world is indeed, in Simon’s words, a “fucking scary place”.
Photo: Jassy Earl