I always approach military events with a certain degree of caution. Non military perceptions of military existence are often ill informed and romantic. But as I am honing my screen writing skills and need to have more theatrical experience in actual theatres, and not just inside my house, then I agreed to review ‘Do We Do The Right Thing?’ by Neil Walker, who was raised as a ‘PADBRAT’ (a son of the serving who lived in military quarters) to an army Sergeant in the 60s and 70s.
The play, which is an anthology of real voices, interpreted and presented by a cast ensemble of four actors, Neil Walker, Craig Hendry, Joanna Waters and Luke Shepherd, was inspired by the BBC documentary ‘The Town That Remembers’ about the Royal Wootton Bassett, the impact of the re-patriation of those killed in combat on the town dwellers and the ripple effect of death in combat. The play, written by Neil Walker, uses transcripts of those he interviewed and his own family life to construct a narrative, which seamlessly transcends through a 100 years of death in combat. It also addresses Neil’s own personal conflict – what does it mean to be a man? He was raised by a dedicated patriarchal military sergeant; but knew from a young age that he was gay and that he didn’t want to serve his country and put his life on the line. Instead pursued hobbies, such as horse-riding, to please his father and gain his medal of manhood. The military definition of what maketh the man is very clear and draconian and no doubt every step of Neil’s creative journey has led him to ask the question ‘am I really a man?’
The military is a collective body that relies on uniformity. It attracts similar personality types and if they don’t fit the mould it reshapes them to be the mould. As a collective and mass moving body; it relies on order and hierarchy to deliver the mission in an operational effective way. It is not agile, flexible and free thinking. But by joining a male dominated organisation that makes you dress the same, think the same and act the same; in my opinion this is not what makes a man.
Men respond. It takes discipline, patience, and maturity to filter and think about other people before responding. A response requires thought, whereas a reaction is instinctual. Men are willing to examine their defects. They practice transparency and non-defensiveness. They express how they feel. They don’t try to be someone they are not. They handle confrontations by acknowledging, taking responsibility, and making choices. Then they move forward, changed. Men have a cause. Fighting for a position in life. Expressing art. Sharing gifts. Improving. Something he believes in, even if others don’t. Whether it’s one’s character, or an empire, men build. Men take action. Men change. They “fix” their relationship. Stop drinking, cheating, spending, hiding, and numbing. They take action and climb that mountain daily. If they fall down over and over; they keep getting back up. They put their money where their mouth is.
Neil Walker is a man; a man who asks questions, and together with the innovation and direction of Tommy Lexen, and the collaboration of the team at the Be Frank Theatre company, collectively they have created a moving and heart wrenching journey, which analyses the ripples of war across the last 100 years.
Do We Do The Right Thing was sympathetic; but not patronising, or condescending. I took my 11 year old son to watch it. It was hard viewing for him and it made him very sad; but he made it to the end. Hagar and I felt it was important that he saw life extends beyond the consumer based fun filled existence of computer games and his own needs.
I would like to live in a world without war, and yet, I live inside the war machine. From inside the war machine I am privileged to have greater insight into the machinations of the beast than some of those interviewed for the play. From the outside the war machine is a complex puzzle, driven by governments and politics with agendas, outside the comprehension of the person on street. In Wootton Bassett crowds gathered and paid tribute to the war dead because it was the right thing to do; but the mass gathering affected the town. It brought the war home to them when some would prefer to bury their head in the sand.
Whilst the play is not political there is a hint of discontent at Blair and Bush; but then this is tempered with;
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
In my opinion, Bush and Blair created this holy war on purpose because they are both Christian fundamentalists, and didn’t they do well, because in this era of ISIS the war continues on. Sometimes the line between good and evil becomes very blurred indeed.
The play echoes the sentiment of many modern dilemmas in a liberal society, where the freedom to express and choose our destiny is not seen as a luxury, but a right. The journey is complex. Men need war and war needs men. But we cannot criticise those who pay the ultimate sacrifice to fight in conflicts some don’t support, but instead we must remember their sacrifice.
I think this quote sums it up:
“War is not the glorious adventure depicted on films; it’s cruel, destructive and worst of all, indiscriminate in the slaughter and maiming of women and children and non-combatants who play no part in the conflict. Did I do the right thing?”
Did We Do The Right Thing is thought provoking and heart wrenching; but don’t take my word for it see it for yourself.
The BikeShed, Exeter – 10 November 2014 – 19:30
Tickets: £12 (£8 Concessions)
Box Office: 01392 434 169
Old Fire Station, Oxford – 18-19 February 2015
About BeFrank Theatre Company
BeFrank is a London-based international theatre company that produces ambitious, visually engaging and thought-provoking productions based on real life stories, current topics and key social and political events that together form the global society we are a part of. We collaborate across multiple disciplines and bring together theatre makers, musicians, academics, journalists and political experts to explore different perspectives on important subjects and current events happening all around the world.
We aim to reach the heart of these issues by travelling to the places and meeting the people involved with each event and hearing their stories first hand. We strive to discover the human story behind the headlines and show the perspectives others are afraid to tackle.
Our process is based upon extensive research and development, field studies and an exploration of digital technologies and storytelling. Our vision is to produce performances of the highest artistic and intellectual quality as well as being engaged, interesting and accessible for a wider audience.
The company was formed in 2010 by artistic director Tommy Lexen and has since then developed into an ensemble and creative team from seven different countries and four continents. As a company we aim to bridge the gaps between diverse communities and create dialogues that can inspire social change.