What's it really like to serve in the military? The Two Worlds of Charlie F is a truly unique production, as all the actors are real-life injured, wounded and sick service personnel who bring their own true stories to the stage. In the words of BBC Defence Correspondent Caroline Wyatt, it'll take you âthe closest you'll get to the frontline.'
Playing the lead character is Marine Cassidy Little, who was born in Newfoundland, Canada, and lost a limb serving for the British military in Afghanistan. He tells us all about his role in this extraordinary production, that shows the lives of soldiers both at war and when they return home.
I was recruited at Headley Court in Surrey - the medical rehabilitation centre for injured servicemen and women run by the RAF. I was approached approximately two and a half months after I was injured, so I was still in a pretty rough place, and I had enough sense about me to know I needed something to do rather than just sitting around licking my wounds. Luckily I was approached about this project and told it could be right up my alley. The director Stephen Rayne and the writer Owen Sheers explained it was going to be about the lives of soldiers before, during and after war, and that it was going to be performed by real servicemen and women. I thought this is going to be great for anybody who's involved, so why not give it a shot?
Yeah that's true-ish. I've definitely always been an attention seeker, and I learned from an early age that I enjoyed everything about performing. I got a scholarship to study advanced ballet in the United States and I've done a lot of community theatre, back in my home town - It was a great time of my life. I actually originally came to the UK to do stand up comedy, but got slightly distracted due to an interesting series of bets that led to me joining the Marines!
Owen Sheers is a very clever poet, he immersed himself in our lives day in day out. We told him about our stories, not just war stories but the funny stuff we got up to in the military, the bonding and the banter. We told him about what it's like to be in the British military, the good and the bad, the ups and the downs. So while Owen locked himself away to write the show, the cast were busy bonding with each other. We tried to create that same military feeling that everybody's got a job to do and everybody needs to do it. When we all came back together after Christmas, we put our acting hats on and did three weeks of rehearsals, using Owen's script that was based on all the truths we gave him.
It was a little nerve-wracking to be honest with you, by that point in time I hadn't been on stage for almost eight years, and a lot of us were on pharmaceuticals because some the guys in the team were injured very badly - there was a definite pharmaceutical intervention going on there! We hadn't actually done a full run of the play until the day of the first performance, but we did what we were trained to do, we went out and performed it the best we could. Luckily we came away with lots of people who liked it.
The reaction we got was one thing we couldn't predict, there was no way we could have seen that coming. I was worried people would like the play because they felt sorry for us, I didn't anticipate that it would actually be a good theatrical show. I don't want to blow wind up our arse, but people came up to us afterwards and were saying it was one of the most unique pieces of theatre they have ever seen. They were saying they've never seen anything like it and they've never been so moved by a performance. After a while you stop assuming that people are clapping because they feel sorry for you, and you start assuming they're clapping because they've enjoyed the performance.
Trauma does some terrible things to the body and
horrible things to the brain. The main thing about the body is, it will heal on
its own, whether the brain wants it to or not. We've been healing ever since we
discovered trees and climbing and discovered we could fall. But our minds are
different, our minds don't heal very easily, sometimes it takes an
extraordinary thing to give us an opportunity to patch up the holes in our
minds. That's what this show became for all of us who were unsure of where we were
going to go and what we were going to do when the military was no longer an
option. My physical appearance, something that I took for granted, was changed,
and as fickle as that may sound your ego takes a large smack when you don't
look like you used to.
It sounds a little corny, but the show gave us back who we were before we got injured. It allowed us to explore our troubles, in my opinion dysfunction breeds from a lack of communication, so if you're spending time talking about your problems and someone is creating a powerful piece of fiction around that, that in itself is very therapeutic. I'm closer to being the person I was before I was injured than I ever was before this show.
Even if you don't know anything about the military, because trauma is now so rife in our culture, we hope you'll be able to relate to the characters and the soldiers on the stage. When you come away from it you'll feel a strength that these guys have found and are now showing you. We hope people will find a confidence in themselves that they may or may not have had before.
You can see The Two Worlds of Charlie F at Richmond Theatre from Mon 17 - Sat 22 Mar.
âCharlie F. is the first time that real-life service personnel
have appeared on stage to tell their own stories. It makes for an evening of
rare, raw power.'
âPowerfully affecting - Gripping. The
authenticity of verbatim drama and the saltiness of barracks - room humour with
the finesse of something more lyrical'