Redstitch’s Glory Dazed is powerful, confronting and triumphant theatre; packing multiple punches in its 75 minute one act production.
Written by award winning UK playwright, Cat Jones, it primarily concerns itself with the troubled and oft-unspoken experience of modern day returned soldiers. In this case, Englishman Ray arrives home from the war in Iraq and Afghanistan to his village of Doncaster, struggling to accept his broken marriage to Carla and her new romance with his best mate and publican Simon. All the action takes place one late night as he locks them all in the local pub (along with new teenage dippy barmaid Leanne) until he gets what he wants – escape to a new life with Carla and the kids so he doesn’t get jailed for a recent bashing. With celebrations of the centenary of WWI combined with current events in Gaza, Ukraine, and elsewhere the importance of such a topic and how we deal with our distressed returning military is as relevant now as it ever was. Originally awarded for its form as a radio drama, Jones was inspired to write the work after statistics revealed an exorbitant number of British ex-soldiers in prison and victims of homelessness and suicide. Having then adapted her piece for the stage, it has been toured for the festivals in Edinburgh and Adelaide to much acclaim and now makes its premiere in Victoria.
Redstitch’s interpretation sees a simple but effective set, created by stalwart designer Peter Mumford, transporting us directly inside an English pub; worn floorboards, orange and blue panelling, weary cushioned bench seats on the right, customary poker machine, and a small bar and table setting on the left. Central steps at the back lead down to a signed front bar, toilets and upstairs residence. It feels compact and this adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere of the action as it evolves. Director Greg Carroll who is familiar to Redstitch audiences strips back all theatrical elements so that the focus is clearly on the characters and their journey of this one agonising night. From the beginning, Carroll cleverly forces the audience to feel displaced with a long opening song shifting to longheld guarded staring by Simon, Carla and barmaid Leanne facing the audience, yet we soon realise they are just nervous about letting in the angry and drunk Ray who is beating on the door (and boy couldn’t we feel his commanding anger up through the floor of our seats!). From here, Carroll’s clever control of the rhythm and staging upholds the relentless energy required of this angry and despairing story whilst cleverly punctuating key moments with reflective pauses and violent outbreaks that make the riveted audience wonder where will this go, how far can it go?
Guest actor, Andre deVanny totally owns the role of Ray, he is an actor completely in control of his craft. Through his voice and body we witness his complete immersion of disillusionment, fury and desperation; his raw portrayal makes no apologies for showcasing Ray as racist and violent misogynistic bully one minute, funny charmer the next. But it is his affecting and anguished breakdown that compels us to really understand the depth of his sorrow and raw pain as a returned soldier. He is indeed a ‘wounded soldier’ as Carla refers to him at one point. Guest actor Emily Goodard also shines in the role of the long suffering and pained ex wife Carla. Here is a woman conflicted by her feelings for the husband and father she once knew and yet wanting to provide a safe and loving future environment for her two sons with new love Simon. Tears, panic and disappointment are etched on Goddard’s face as she reflects on the life they could have had, and later her switch to guilt at betraying her new love when Simon declares ‘you have a thousand reasons to leave him but I’m not one’; making us realise that it is not just the soldier who pays the price for war. Ensemble actor Jonathan Peck’s presence as Simon grows as the play progresses. Originally chastised for being weak he too lashes out in frustration by the end forcing an almighty confrontation with Ray, because he is also fearful of losing everything he holds dear. Guest actor Laura Jane Turner, in her first professional production, impresses as the naive girl strangely drawn to the enigmatic Ray and yet pays the consequence when she inadvertently causes offence. Often given the responsibility of breaking tense moments with scatterbrained ill-timed opinions, Turner picked her moments well and allowed the audience some much needed comic relief.
Ultimately, this edgy and contemporary play records a small true slice of life that sheds light on an ignored group of fringe dwellers who have represented their country but are not able to feel at home once they return. Their overexposure to violence and the worst mankind has to offer damages them so intently that violence or destruction seems like the only path for their future. This play reminds us that we need to do more to help these men and women if we keep sending them out to war. Well done Redstitch for presenting a gripping, gritty and thought-provoking play, and for being a company who always impresses, surprises, provokes and yet never lets us down.