Unspoken

Tue 21st – Mon 27th August 2018

reviews

Sally Christmas

at 09:59 on 22nd Aug 2018

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'Unspoken' is a stunning piece theatre of based on the real experiences of the cast who form part of the Bravo 22 Company, a recovery through the arts programme for veterans. Moving, thought provoking and somehow still funny, 'Unspoken' is a must-see production.

A poignant and harrowing piece, monologues are used with great skill to showcase the physical, mental and emotional traumas caused by the conflicts these people have faced. We hear of a medic who missed her daughter’s wedding, a wife whose husband who was never quite the same after he served, and a ‘sit-down comic’, who describes the events that left him in a wheelchair. Emotions run high throughout the show, thanks not only to these gripping moments, but also to the relationships between the cast. This is clearly a company that cares for each other, and that empathy translates from stage to audience.

All the performances were extremely strong, but Tip Cullen’s character, known only as ‘The Man’, was truly something else. His pieces about finding his corner of the world were subtle yet powerful, and the story of the connection he feels to his great grandfather, a brave soldier who is now just a "sepia faded photograph in a frame on a sideboard," left me in awe. An enigmatic and isolated role, Cullen’s portrayal stands out.

I have to say, my favourite thing about 'Unspoken' is that it surprised me. I hadn’t been expecting so much genuine comedy, with jokes about a bloke in a wheelchair getting stuck at the top of the stairs, and a beautifully snide remark about "left leaning liberal snowflakes." A lot of the humour is at the expense of Walt, played by Ian Rudge. Walt isn’t a veteran, but he pretends to be; he apparently has a posthumous Victoria Cross, and suffers with ‘PDSA’. The banter between the cast is hugely entertaining, and reminds us that we can still laugh because, ultimately, these people are more than just their traumas. The breadth of talent on stage was spectacular, with the jaw-dropping singing abilities of Dave Griffin punctuating the piece fantastically, and overall the production struck the perfect balance of hilarious and heart-breaking. It’s a tricky thing to do, especially with such a difficult subject at the heart, but the end result is a piece that is beautifully moving.

'Unspoken' is not only excellent, but extremely important. It is not something born out of self-pity, and it doesn’t need our sympathy, although it often evokes it all the same. All that it asks is for you to sit down, listen and try to wrap your head around the things these men and women have been through, and the result is powerful. Although I left the theatre with tears in my eyes, my overwhelming feeling wasn’t one of sadness, but of immense respect.

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Miles Jackson

at 10:01 on 22nd Aug 2018

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There’s something Chekhovian to ‘Unspoken’, a new piece from Bravo 22 Company devised and performed by former servicemen injured in the field of combat. Following the traumatic struggles of a number of army and RAF veterans in a sleepy and anonymous pub, Phil Hoffman’s production recalls works such as ‘The Seagull’ in its depiction of broken spirits perpetually trapped in the past.

A harrowing atmosphere of fragmentation and doomed inevitability suffuses almost every aspect of the piece. The evocative set design, consisting of two isolated and ruptured pieces of wall on either side of the stage, makes the pub feel as splintered and fractured as the people who inhabit it. Gary Kitching’s achingly beautiful script features characters so stuck in the past they consistently repeat lines and turns of phrase. Many of the actors have even lost limbs in combat, a painful and constant physical reminder of the agony they suffered and the loss they faced.

The show intelligently avoids blind patriotism and hero worship; rather, the piece offers an emotional and insightful critique of the banality of war. An ex-marine speaks of his great grandfather fighting on the Somme in a poetic series of monologues that contrast his enormous sacrifice with its ultimate pointlessness. Meanwhile, the pub is haunted by the ghost of a former serviceman who watches in vain as his son-in-law makes all the same mistakes he did. Cycles repeat, wars never end and men are doomed to repeat the mistakes of their forefathers, the play sombrely argues.

Very few of the cast are professionally trained actors, yet many of them are seriously impressive in their emotional range. Tip Cullen gives a standout performance as the aforementioned ex-Marine, totally captivating the audience with his forlorn face and thick Northern Irish brogue. Likewise, Ken Bellringer is utterly heart wrenching as a paraplegic stand-up comic (a brutally dark irony that befits the show’s jet-black sense of humour), depicting the panic and horror of PTSD in moments of crushing anxiety.

Some vignettes are certainly more successful than others. A somewhat lighter segment depicting a ‘film club’ that takes place in the pub doesn’t quite work, the performances never feeling quite naturalistic enough for the relationships to gel and the humour to land. Likewise, while the play should be commended for considering the point of view of a female veteran, the story of an army doctor comes off a tad glib – a somewhat patronising anecdote of an encounter with an Afghan soldier lacking the remarkable levelheadedness of the rest of the show and leaving a sour taste.

Nevertheless, ‘Unspoken’ is one of the strongest shows I’ve seen at the Fringe, an emotionally draining yet utterly essential piece of theatre that considers its subject matter with a stunning maturity and tact. Though the show depicts the ways in which soldiers struggle to move on and resume lives as ‘civvies’, it ends on a note of hope; a heartwarming cover of Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ is the perfect ending for a show as poetic, personal and powerful as any of the best at the Fringe.

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