The Two Worlds of Charlie F – a British import which opened last night at The Princess of Wales Theatre – is heartbreaking, timely, shocking and thought-provoking. Is it traditional theatre? Therapy? Both? That’s for the audience to decide.
The show has a fascinating concept – it examines the lives of soldiers wounded in the Afghanistan war, focusing on what life is like for them when they return home and have to adjust to their new lives as the ‘Regiment of the Wounded’. Aside from the daring subject matter, what makes Charlie F stand out is that the show features actual wounded veterans telling very personal stories.
The Two Worlds of Charlie F is the brainchild of executive producer Alice Driver, who holds the belief that theatre can empower and heal. Building on this, she set out to bring together a group of wounded service men and women to perform in a piece of theatre that would help them tell their very personal stories. The project became known as the Bravo 22 Company, and after a successful run in the UK has made it’s way to Canada for it’s North American debut.
Canadian Cassidy Little leads the group of servicemen and women (eight of the fifteen person cast are actual soldiers from the Afghanistan war) and he shines as the lead character Lance Corporal Charlie Fowler. Little, who proudly proclaims that he joined the Marines ‘on a bet’, served in Afghanistan and lost the lower half of his right leg after being hit by an IED in 2011.
The show grips the audience from it’s opening sequence, where we see Little behind a silhouette, waking up from a drug induced coma after returning to England following his injury. His body may be in the UK, but his brain is still in Afghanistan, and the audience is left to watch in horror as he fights the very people who are trying to help him.
Little then addresses the audience directly, conveying the necessary poise, realism and charisma of a bona fide ‘theatre actor’. He blends humour with tragedy and drives the story forward, bravely showcasing his stump and not flinching in the face of heavy subject matter.
Charlie F takes its audience on a journey that few people have the privilege of seeing as you experience first-hand the trajectory that a soldier’s life can take. The servicemen and women explain what drove them to want to join the military, what kept them going when they were away from home, and candidly discuss the struggles that come from the reality of knowing that in terms of injury and death, ‘it’s not a question of IF but WHEN.’
Unlike many shows that caution us about the horrors of war, Charlie F examines life long after its protagonists have left the battlefield. Some of the show’s most touching moments occur when the wounded men and women return home, and are wrestling with how to learn to live their ‘old lives’ while balancing the injuries, memories and damage that result from their shared experiences on the battlefield.
Hence the ‘Two Worlds’ of Charlie F – Charlie Fowler’s story (and the story of the men and women who served with him) showcase just how deep the emotional and physical wounds of war can run. When a soldier comes home, his or her journey is in many ways just beginning. The men and women on stage at The Princess of Wales do an excellent job of conveying the trauma, pain and loss that comes with learning to join the two worlds – and the joy that comes when they finally overcome.
The show has it’s weak moments, personally I wasn’t a fan of much of the choreographed musical sequences and would have preferred to have the focus stay on the soldiers stories, but credit must be given to Director Stephen Rayne for bringing together a group of people with no acting experience and helping them create this unique piece of theatre. Author Owen Sheers has done a fantastic job of blending fact with fiction – allowing the truth behind these soldiers personal experiences to shine through amidst fictional story-lines.
With some tweaking and a greater emphasis on the personal nature of both the war and the soldier’s recovery, I think The Two World’s of Charlie F could really be something special. As it stands now, it’s a fascinating piece of theatre that will challenge its audience to examine their thoughts on war (and the sacrifices of the men and women in our armed forces).
It’s too easy these days to dismiss what is going on in other parts of the world, to forget what is happening, or to simply assume that life carries on as normal for the people who have given the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom of others. Charlie F will remind us all that our veterans deserve not only our unwavering gratitude, but our uncompromising support and compassion as they come home to rejoin the world we are lucky enough to call home.
The Two Worlds of Charlie F is on stage at The Princess of Wales Theatre until Mar 9th 2014 as part of the Off-Mirvish Season. For more information or to purchase tickets, please call 416-872-1212 or visit http://www.mirvish.com/shows/thetwoworldsofcharlief
Merchandise sales at The Two Worlds of Charlie F are benefitting Soldier On – a Canadian organization dedicated to empowering retired and serving members of the Canadian Forces with an illness or injury (visible or non-visible) to accept their new normal by adopting an active lifestyle through participation in physical, recreational or sporting activities. To learn more or to donate please visit their official website here