IN RECOGNITION of the Armistice and all that it means, Theatre N16 are devoting the whole of November to Aftershock, a “military season” of three new plays that explore the meaning and nature of war.
The first, Martin McNamara’s powerfully realistic drama IED, is set in 2008 at the height of the Afghanistan conflict, where Captain Agnes Bennett, an Army Notification Officer, has the routine administrative job of reporting deaths in the field to the nearest and dearest of the fallen. It’s a formidable task.
But, when we first meet her, she is still half-dressed after a casual sexual encounter which is about as heartless as a furtive rummage through a garbage heap.. Only as she gets dressed in the sad little hotel room, fittingly described by her obliging man as “beige,” do we realise that she’s a uniformed army officer all set for a pressing task.
Agnes heads off for another “beige” setting — Melton Mowbray, where the parents of only child Private Newell will learn of his casual slaughter by an improvised explosive device. She’s joined by Private Maginnis on whom she takes pains to impress the need for professionalism and clinical detachment. But what the playwright reveals, with expert craftsmanship, is the chasm between the facade of military professionalism and the reality of personal human experience. That both Agnes and Maginnis are themselves damaged by war is an original take on a timeless theme.
The London fringe, brilliant for its range and freshness, is nevertheless damagingly underfunded and that impacts on its quality. That’s the case here for, while director Rebecca Lyon’s work with a well-rehearsed and committed cast provides a largely positive result against all the odds, this is an uneven production — patchy where it should be fluent and imprecise at moments of textual clarity.
Even so, Jordan Fyffe is a moving Maginnis, Sarah-Jane Charlton convinces as a prostitute and Safron Beck is a committed late replacement in the role of Agnes.
While nothing detracts from the play’s essential quality, I wonder how much more polished this heartfelt and empathetic work would have been in a subsidised theatre with more focused rehearsal, dedicated workshop time and in-depth research into military life.