The Two Worlds of Charlie F: a theatre recovery project

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The Two Worlds of Charlie F left me in two minds about theatre as we know it. As audience members, we’re usually safely sat behind the fourth wall; but the slogan for this show is “first they lived it, now they’re performing it”. Although the subject matter of the show is far from our everyday experiences, it feels extremely real to watch because it’s performed by a cast featuring armed forces personnel whose personal experiences were adapted for the script by writer Owen Sheers. This project was created by the Theatre Royal Haymarket Masterclass and funded by The Royal British Legion as a theatre recovery project for wounded, injured and sick (WIS) armed services personnel. Following a rapturous response from audiences, The Two Worlds of Charlie F has leapt from two performances at the Theatre Royal Haymarket to a UK tour.

Whilst audiences may find the play extremely emotional, for the actors the focus lay upon the play as a rehabilitation project. Cassidy Little, who plays the title character in The Two Worlds of Charlie F, shares the journey he has undergone as a result of this show.

“It’s not like an isolated situation; it kind of worm wooded its way into my life. Almost a year I’ve been involved in this project now and it’s just kind of spread into all aspects of my life, so in actual fact my whole life has changed as a result of this project. It’s not a case of me taking something away from it and going, you know, ‘I’m glad I learned how to massage small animals’, it’s much more like ‘wow, look at the person I’ve become as a result of the experiences I’ve had.’ ”

Cassidy “went to university and studied a lot of dance and movement – that was my major – but I never did professional theatre. I joined community theatre and stuff like that and thoroughly enjoyed it, but I kind of gave it all up,” so the performance aspect was never going to be an entirely new challenge. But why did Cassidy decide to specifically take part in this project? “I needed a healthy distraction. If you spend all your time focusing on rehabilitation then you’re just going to drive yourself insane. The process of learning how to walk again, learning how to live again, learning how to get into routines again is extremely frustrating. I think there’s no coincidence that when we learn to walk for the first time we don’t remember it. So to have to go through all that again, if you focus specifically on it, you’ll drive yourself insane. You need to find something that you can treat as a distraction. And some people pick video games, some people pick movies, some people pick drinking; there’s all kinds of unhealthy distractions out there. So a healthy distraction – one that you can focus on, that is positive – that’s what this project became. I just thought screw it, I’ll just focus on this and see what happens. So I’ve learnt to walk again without even thinking about it.”

Obviously this is a very personal project for the service personnel involved and through this performance Cassidy came to a point where “anything that would have been emotional a year and a half ago is far less emotional. We’ve spent so much time talking about the experiences that it’s much easier to come to grips with what you’re doing and what happens.” Masterclass’ project has utilised drama as a form of therapy; by coming to terms with their experiences they have found themselves more able to cope with them. “You’re taking amateurs, throwing them onstage, and getting them to tell their own stories, so really it’s as close to reality theatre as you’re gonna get.”

There comes a point in the play when a member of the cast describes how phrases like “I understand” are sometimes said without any real understanding of what these WIS service personnel are going through. Cassidy describes The Two Worlds of Charlie F as “a great educational piece, as fictitious as it is. It has to be stressed how fictitious it is – obviously the experiences aren’t word for word because that would be highly inappropriate, but they’re very close. The show itself is a kind of snapshot of what it’s like to walk in the shoes of Charlie F and the other characters that are in that show, so it gives incredible insight into the frustrations of before, during and after.” As a result, Cassidy believes that this show does bring people closer to understanding experiences like those illustrated in the show. “There isn’t a political motivation behind the show. If anything, it’s about awareness and not necessarily about changing anything.”

But The Two Worlds of Charlie F doesn’t just create awareness; it leaves a powerful impression upon you because Bravo 22 Company is so inspiring. Cassidy was ballsy enough to join the Marines for a bet. After winning a previous wager that he couldn’t quit smoking, he was encouraged to get into shape. “Somebody said it’s better to be a failure than it is to be a quitter, because a quitter means you gave up, whereas a failure means you gave it your best. So I picked the hardest option which was the Royal Marines, and next thing you know I fell in love with it.”

There’s something about Cassidy Little in and out of the show that makes you smile, and I defy anyone to not give the cast of The Two Worlds of Charlie F a standing ovation, because this play goes beyond the theatre. It’s about self-belief, it’s a recovery programme for WIS service personnel, and gives this group of brave men and women a voice. This interview with Cassidy Little was an absolutely inspiring and eye-opening experience for me, and the show even more so.

The Two Worlds of Charlie F was at The Pleasance Grand, Edinburgh until 11 August, and returns to the Theatre Royal Haymarket for two shows on 9 September. For tickets and more information, visit www.bravo22company.com.

The original performance of the show can now be viewed online at www.thespace.org.

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