Jonathon Crewe’s theatrical directing debut at the Jack Studio Theatre immerses the audience into what is probably unfamiliar territory for the majority. Toy Soldier, originally a radio play, examines the court case of a British soldier who is charged with the murder of an Iraqi civilian whilst on duty.
When the audience arrive, a hooded prisoner is kneeling on a concrete floor in the spotlight, and we are exposed to amplified sounds of someone breathing and short extracts from a previous conversation. This creates an air of desperation for the character and sets the scene of a detention centre in Basra. The lights are turned up immediately and the audience are drawn into becoming members of the jury as the set changes at once to a courtroom. Millie Ashdown’s simple set design enables the audience to focus on the action. Two chairs behind a table are placed opposite the defendant. Already the audience can sense the unbalanced stance against her.
Bianca Beccles-Rose portrayal as Donna Britten brings some humanity to this role. Flinching in her seat, restless and unable to keep direct eye contact with the lawyers or jury, the audience are able to piece together how Donna found herself in this situation. Thrown into a role with limited experience, Donna seems unaware of the extreme consequences of “following orders”. She repeats to her lawyer “we are born to be trained and trained to obey”. Beccles-Rose excels in the role. With distinctive hand gestures, her uptight and closed body language, staring past the audience, we can imagine Donna’s memories of Iraq (a place she speaks fondly of) and of trying to survive in a war zone. She clearly relives that time in a place in her head. This is partly due to the powerful descriptive language Crewe uses; giving real insight on what being in Iraq is like. Her narrative is so powerful we can almost feel the heat, smell the destruction and see what she sees.
Andrew Lewis’ sound design manages to enhance both the action in the courtroom and on the streets of Iraq. Both lawyers, prosecutor and defence, use tape recordings of the incident to delve into the torture, creating the feeling that the audience are in fact the jury. The heated discussion is replayed, uncovering the fact that Donna was panicked at the time. Working out who else was at fault, as she was not alone, also transfixes the audience. The sound of whispers and chatter, erupting every time a new revelation is exposed, is cleverly recorded so as to give the impression that we are far from an intimate theatre and instead we feel we are in a military courtroom.
Parallel to the action in the courtroom, the audience are taken to scenes in Phillipa Beach’s office – the defendant’s lawyer. These snippets capture the tense atmosphere of the legal system with multiple agendas. Stanley Eldridge brings a sinister edge to Soames (the prosecutor). With a calming yet authoritative tone “Do what is necessary to get a job done”, makes the audience react in a way that mirrors Phillipa Beach’s own response.
All in all, Toy Soldier presents a politically controversial issue in a thought provoking way. With intense performances from all the cast, this production leaves a lasting impression.
Toy Soldier is playing at Jack Studio Theatre until October 8.
Photo: Ethan Taylor