The Lonely Soldier Monologues by Helen Benedict tells significant events from seven women’s lives who served in the US Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan during 2003- 2006. Benedict has herself testified twice to Congress on behalf of women soldiers, and the production is so poetic at points it is hard to believe this is a verbatim piece.
What surprised me the most about the accounts is how shockingly young these women were when they enlisted, some as young as 16. There are uncomfortable stories of rapes and harassment from their own troop. However, never are the emotions of these stories released; the actors are restrained in delivery, which makes gives them greater impact. These seven women present stories of having to continue to work with the men who raped them, because reporting the rape would mean a court-martial for abandoning their post. With verbatim theatre you are aware these are accounts from real women: those who were scared because “no-one wanted to believe me”, and who were advised to always walk to the toilet with a gun. They would collate files full of memos with sexual harassment reports, which in the end led to the perpetrator receiving a promotion. It expresses the difficulty of what these women soldiers were called amongst their own ranks, that I could not write any of those names here.
The second act touches upon the westernising of the Iraq society by imposing a democracy – but how to these female soldiers it felt more like genocide. The Lonely Solider Monologues also stresses how there’s not much help available for post-traumatic stress disorder in women, and how their struggles affected them once they were home: “so out of place. I couldn’t feel comfortable in my skin”. This is represented beautifully by using a voiceless solider who is unable to speak. It is a powerful moment and reflects upon all the female soldiers who remain silent.
The cast are strong and the accents are faultless. Directed by Prav MJ, the actors keep the stories very simple and unemotional, which works in relation to the text. However, the production is very static the whole way through and has little dynamism to it. They could have utilised a cast of seven more by using the ensemble to physicalise the stories, as the highlights of the production are when they all speak together in a group military chant or repeat key lines within the play. The Lonely Soldier Monologues is a story-telling based production, but due to this it needs an injection of energy into the piece if only to add variety.
The play’s message is very anti-war, and it’s the playwright’s right to put a message across – but there is a message to tell also about why people enlist apart from lack of money, opportunity and circumstance. Overall the play lacks conflict: all the characters tell the same message and there are no counter arguments put forward.
With many post-show events taking place throughout its run and the wonderful support behind The Lonely Soldier Monologues, the show does represent the shocking truths faced by women in the military, but is also a testament to women and the discrimination they still face.
The Lonely Soldier Monologues is playing until 31 May. For more information and tickets see the Cockpit Theatre website. Post-show events will be held on selected nights throughout the run. All events are free to ticket holders.