Monday, 06 April 2020

Post-war struggle puts women under spotlight

Post-war struggle puts women under spotlight

IT’S hard to imagine what goes through someone’s head when their loved one says goodbye before heading off to war.

For some the waiting is the hardest part — waiting for them to return home, if they return home — and whether they come back the same person.

The Man Who Left is Not the Man Who Came Home is a story of resilience, hope and change which is based on more than 100 interviews with soldiers and their wives.

It comes to the Kenton Theatre in Henley next Thursday (February 27) at 7.30pm and its cast of three includes a military wife, who will tell of her own experiences as the play unfolds.

Kevin Dyer, who wrote and directed the play, said it is not a tale of men at war but a story told through the eyes of the women who wait and the impact on their relationships.

He said: “Most of us with partners say goodbye to them when they go to work, but we know that they are going to come back — not so if you are a military wife.

“The play was put together over the last four years which I spent talking to soldiers in uniform in their barracks and talking to the women there.

“It soon became clear in my conversations that the pressures on the pair of them — the wife and her man — were immense, extraordinary and not at all like civvy street.

“There have been loads of stories about men serving in Afghanistan and Iraq but not many from the point of view of the wife or girlfriend whose husband has gone away and might never come back.

“The stories of the women who watched their man go, spent time thinking, wondering, hoping, coping whilst he was away, then experienced him coming back home, were vivid and inspiring.”

Among those whom Kevin interviewed was the Military Wives Choir in Aldershot. He had prepared a set of questions which included: What was it like before he went?; What was it like saying goodbye? and What was it like after the first buzz of his return had passed?

Kevin was particularly interested in the minute before he went away and the first minute that passed when he returned.

He said: “I heard stories of love, hate, betrayal, uselessness, kids, mates, denial and madness. The stories are varied and never simple.

“A lot of them said how they had got themselves into a real rhythm while their husbands were away and so when they came home the honeymoon period wasn’t straightforward.

“They may have become, in effect, a single parent and so it’s hard for both of them to readjust and in some cases the man who left is not the same man who came back and it is not just those with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“When you do big things in your lives, you change, and you have to start all over again. One woman told me that when they saw their husband again all they wanted to do was kiss his face off, which was an expression I loved, but another said they found it difficult to communicate.

“In the army there is no grey area — it’s black and white — which made things like negotiating who was picking up the kids hard.”

The whole of the play takes place in an army quarters, which has a tiny kitchen with an oven that doesn’t work which Kevin says those who have lived in such accommodation would identify with.

The couple, Chloe (Stephanie Greer) and Ashley (Sam Wilson) have two children but there is so little space, they don’t even have room for a sofa.

Kevin says: “It is a play about two people struggling to make their lives work. It starts from when they first met and it goes all the way through to when he comes back home from the army and it is a bumpy journey.

“They are two people who have immense life in them, two people who you would love to go out and spend time with, and it is a close-up of the two of them.

“It is a story about love and how to keep our partners so you don’t have to be from a military background or know anything about the military to come and see it. You will see how jobs get in the way of relationships and we try to cope with it.

“But in addition to the two professional actors, who are remarkable, we have a third member of the company which the audience will see — a real military wife (Sam Trussler), whose husband did two tours of Afghanistan.

“She tells her story and what it was like for her. Her dad also served in Northern Ireland so she came from a military family and so she takes you into this whole other world that she has known all her life.”

Sam’s story will run parallel to the action performed by the two actors. Sometimes it overlaps and intersects and sometimes it contradicts or doesn’t seem to connect at all.

Kevin said: “It is a real story told by a real person in the midst of a theatrical production that also tells real stories. What the theatre offers is empathy and audiences will get to see what it is like to be in their boots and so we know what it is like for them.

“But it is also an uplifting play because you are getting the truth of real stories from real people. There is so much truth in the play and it is this factor that makes reality TV as popular as it is with audiences.”

This production means a lot to Kevin, whose father was in the army and he found that he was giving all his money away to Combat Stress in the years before his death.

“He was in the third commando of the D-Day Landings and this caused a shadow over his life,” Kevin said, “although he was a happy and gentle man. My grandfather and great grandfather were also in the army.

“I think hearing all these stories for this play really touched me and gave me an understanding of why my dad was the way he was.”

After the performance there will be a “conversation” on the themes of the play and the bigger questions surrounding war, the armed forces and the country we live in.

Audience members will get the opportunity to share their own stories and experiences.

• Tickets for The Man Who Left is Not the Man Who Came Home are £19 with concessions available at £17.50, which includes a £1 theatre restoration levy. The performance, which runs for 70 minutes with no interval, has an age rating of 14+.

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