Play Pieces: Beyond The Trenches
JUST because a play is set almost a century ago does not mean it is without contemporary resonance.
Playwrights, after all, have a long tradition of using bigger gaps in time than a mere 90 odd years to talk about their own time. Just think about Arthur Miller making use of the witch-hunts of 16th century Salem to cast light on the anti-Communist hysteria of McCarthy era America or, closer to home, Scotland’s own David Greig using 11th century Scotland to subtly comment on the 21st century’s war(s) on terror in Dunsinane.
Inverness’s own Rebecca Martin cannot quite bear comparison with Miller or Greig, but she does suggest she is a writer of some potential with this, her first play for Play Pieces lunchtime theatre slot in Inverness and Elgin.
Tapping into those seeming ubiquitous commemorations of the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, the story of one young couple’s marriage under pressure from what the husband saw and did on the Western Front deals with what today’s audience recognises as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
As Robbie MacLean, young Nairn actor Nicholas Ralph gives a plausible performance as a man haunted and changed by his experiences of war, repeating almost as a mantra a list of German first names, any one of which might have belonged to the German boy he was forced to kill.
He revealed in Saturday’s post show discussion that he had help from a friend who had served in the military and had returned to tour to shut himself away as a virtual recluse, giving not only an authentic, but a personal touch to Ralph’s performance.
Although both Martin and Ralph are credited as writers, they acknowledge that most of the writing is down to Martin, who does not skimp on giving her fellow performer some strong lines and powerful monologues.
Influenced by the writing of the war poets, her words and Ralph’s performance combine to create vivid images of near drowning in black water or the absurdly beautiful image of bodies being thrown "like ballerinas" into the air by shell fire.
It is more Robbie’s story than that of Isla, his wife, but Martin also gave herself powerful emotions to work with — the feat that Robbie, like her father and brothers, will never return from France, the grief at the loss of their unborn child and the fear of what has become of her beloved husband and what he might do to her as the effects of his war service and the alcohol he takes to deal with his nightmares make his behaviour more erratic.
There were moments when the performances did not run entirely smoothly, which was entirely forgivable given the performers relative inexperience. The hopeful ending also hinted at some of the naïvety about the piece that director Jimmy Chisholm talked about in the discussion after the play, although he stressed that this was not something negative, just a young person’s way of looking at war and the couple in the play were equally young.
Yet those flaws were easily overlooked by an attentive audience who responded to the emotions of the story that fitted in so well with the time of year, coming just a few days after 11th November, and suggests Martin and Ralph are names to watch out for.