It is a relief to so many when a soldier returns home from war. The media captures the moments of love, tears and joy. However, what is missed is what can come after. Many soldiers struggle to cope with life after war. From MolinoGroup, directed by Bethany Pitts, Giles Roberts’ new play, Much Further Out Than You Thought explores the difficulties that Lance Corporal James Randall goes through in his time in Afghanistan.
Roberts is both writer and performer. He puts in so much energy, physically and mentally, to portray the character of Randall as accurately as possible. He admits that he has never had a near death experience like his character nor any military experience. He explains that he had to rely a lot on imagination for Randall’s personal and mental life.
“It is an intense experience…but it is necessary”. Roberts goes on to explain that he wants the audience to get lost within the character of Randall. “I want them to forget that they are watching a play”.
It is so important for people to remember that even when home, the war isn’t over. Randall stresses this in the performance and you can see the battle going on inside his mind. Many soldiers suffer from mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Roberts understood that it was vital for him to carry out in-depth research. He explains that investigations into the triggers, effects and consequences of PTSD. “We wanted to find a way of investigating the trauma of a real soldier, through a fictional character”. Roberts credits the veterans who he spoke to. He expresses how “fortunate” he felt to have gained such a valuable input from them.
Organisations and charities like Help For Heroes and Combat Stress are there for soldiers who have gone through such trauma. Roberts admits that this is an issue that isn’t “glossed over”. Rightly so, it affects so many, so strongly. According to combatstress.org; one in twenty will report symptoms of PTSD following deployment in Afghanistan and one in five will suffer from other mental health illnesses such as anxiety and depression due to their time in the Armed Forces.
James Randall is an ex-paratrooper, five years returned and leaving the army. He is now alone, a shell of his former self and is desperately trying to reconnect with his estranged son. Roberts wants the audience to realise the “human perspective ” of the character. Much Further Out Than You Thought highlights the real price of war. Although Randall is a fictional character, the issues that he is living with are the ones that so many servicemen and women are living with.
As the performer and writer, Roberts expresses the amount of research and personal work that went into creating the piece. He wanted to understand the life of a soldier in Afghanistan in detail. James Randall is more than just a character. He has a life and a history. “There was a lot of stripping back the text to get the real thrust of the narrative, trimming the fat and ensuring that everything we presented on stage was vital to the story and its telling”. Roberts admits that he thought it would be difficult to be an actor and writer, yet, he found it to “be a liberating experience”. The most exciting part for Roberts, he said, was the discovery and insights to the character’s life and the ways to portray it on stage.
This isn’t a play about war. Roberts stresses that he wants the audience to focus on the man, James Randall.
“The focus was never on the depiction of a soldier…I wanted them to look at the man behind the amour playing, a man who cares so much more about fighting for his son”.
It is this fight that drives the character of Randall. Yet, it is the demons of his mind that could prevent any chance of moving forward.
Much Further Out Than You Thought is hard hitting and James Randall is more than just a character of Roberts’ imagination, he is a reflection of what so many other veterans are going through. Although it is often overlooked, it must never be forgotten.
Much Further Out Than You Thought is playing at the 6 – 30 August 2015: Big Belly, Underbelly.