dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Sharing the untold stories of war
Bravo 22 Company first hit the headlines with The Two Worlds of Charlie F, featuring armed services personnel who had been wounded or injured. The company's latest work, Unspoken, builds on the success of that production with a new show sharing stories and reminiscences based on real-life experiences.
First performed on Remembrance Day in 2016, Unspoken looks at the impact of war on those who serve and those who are left behind. And it doesn't pull any punches. Many of the characters are living with visible and invisible scars – the impact of their wars with them every second of every day.
The setting is a bar for ex-service personnel on a variety night with a singer and comedian. Within this bar there's a disparate group of characters but they all share experiences of the armed forces. Many of the performers in Bravo 22 Company are former service personnel so they speak from the heart. And while the characters they play may be broken both physically and mentally, they retain a steely resilience – layered with a sometimes surprising sense of humour.
There's the film club who meet every week despite not actually watching the film. During the course of the evening they debate why they come together each week, they trade insults and they will all be back next week! Then there's the foul-mouthed landlord (Micky Goble) who was so unwilling to let go of the army that he took over the pub so he could spend all of his free time with other former combatants.
Ken Bellringer is particularly powerful as the Sit Down Comic who uses a wheelchair and has an opening line that he's a different kind of 'stand-up comedian'. He begins well enough with lots of gags but gradually he comes to his own story in which his legs were blown off by a bomb while helping a colleague. Even after this brutal story one of the guys quips 'I liked his earlier material better!'
Written by Gary Kitching and directed by Phil Hoffmann, Unspoken also pays tribute to the soldiers of the First World War drawing a direct parallel between their experiences in the trenches and those of the modern combatant. Tip Cullen plays The Man, a stranger who stands on a corner and reminisces about his great grandfather killed at 19 in 'the war to end all wars' and how, when he then stood over an Iraqi insurgent in his own battles he saw his ancestor in this new 'enemy'.
At just over an hour long, there is nevertheless lots of material for thought in Unspoken. Many of the stories are encapsulated in just a few lines and yet capture a lifetime. Performed in the Patrick Studio at Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre, the audience, particularly in the front row, became part of the pub crowd ensuring a closer sense of connection so that we all, in some way, shared the experiences being replayed on stage.