Theatre Review - Casualties

Gary (Alex Ferns) is about to join his mate Mike (Finlay Robertson) serving in Afghanistan. They are both members of a counter IED team – that means dismantling Improvised Explosive Devices. Ross Ericson’s intelligent play about the emotional fallout of war opens in Gary’s kitchen. His wife Emma (Emma Stansfield) is waiting for him upstairs, but Gary appears more interested in sharing a beer with Mike and discussing their imminent departure than spending his last precious hours of home leave with his wife.

Two stories unfold and time overlaps. On the front line Gary and Mike’s friendship becomes increasingly strained, while at home Emma finds herself having to face her own demons. An investigating officer (Patrick Toomey) turns up to interrogate her about her relationship with Gary and her interactions with Mike during the two weeks her husband was away training. CASUALTIES takes place on a traverse stage. At one end of Katherine Heath’s impressive set is an Ikea-style kitchen, the other half is strewn with sand and straw to represent the scrub and desolation of Afghanistan.

Inspired by soldiers’ own accounts, Ericson raises some important issues about the debilitating effects of violent conflict on domestic life. Gary’s addiction to the dangers of his job jeopardise his marriage and Mike’s rising horror after witnessing his comrades being blown up threatens to send him over the edge. Ericson also include some chilling anecdotes about the British military’s treatment of rank and file, such as the war widow who receives her husband’s final pay packet with a deduction made for the time the soldier failed to serve after their death.

Harry Burton directs with verve and draws out superb performances. Ericson is also an actor and demonstrates an excellent grasp of what makes good drama as well as creating terrific roles for the four-strong cast. Ferns conveys a range of emotions, moving from cold boredom, through boyish joy on discovering that his wife is pregnant, to steely determination when under attack. Robertson also gives a nuanced performance as a once jovial soldier facing the abyss.

In Park90 at Park Theatre until 14 July