REVIEW: Shell Shock, Brighton Fringe ✭✭✭✭

Shell Shock at Brightion Festival

Tom Page in Shell Shock at Brighton Festival.

Shell Shock
Brighton Fringe and on tour
Four stars
Book Tickets

Attitudes towards combat stress have thankfully changed since 100 years ago when soldiers were shot for cowardice and desertion when they were in fact suffering from “shell shock”. However, the argument still rages over what is now called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among service personnel, making new play Shell Shock a timely representation of how it affects the life of one ordinary young man.

When we first meet Tommy Atkins (using a slang name for soldiers during World War One), he is a cocky northern lad in his early 20s, full of hope about his life after six years in the army. But the cracks gradually begin to show, revealing that his time spent in Afghanistan has had a deeper emotional impact on him than he can admit. Irritation over being given Pepsi instead of Coke and rants about benefit claimants develop into deeper anger, paranoia and violence, exacerbated by worsening nightmares about fighting in the desert. As he becomes increasingly isolated from his parents and girlfriend Shell, we see Tommy's life fall apart without any signs of support.

Shell Shock at Brighton Fringe

Tom Page in Shell Shock

One of the strengths of the play is that it is based on a book of the same name by Neil Blower who drew on his own experiences as a soldier adjusting to civilian life. Adapted and directed by Ian Marriott, the production avoids sentimentality, told by Tommy himself in audio diary form with a directness and simplicity that makes his turmoil all the more heart-breaking. Tom Page is very believable and engaging as Tommy, giving a restrained, mesmerising performance in this 75-minute solo show.

The video projected onto the back of the stage between scenes could have been slicker but this is only a very minor quibble that will no doubt improve after the first public performance that I saw.  Supported by a long list of support groups and charities such as Combat Stress, Shell Shock inevitably has an educational purpose of raising awareness and understanding of PTSD but, above all, it is a powerful depiction of the effects of combat on ordinary soldiers and the people around them.

BOOK TICKETS TO SHELL SHOCK

SHELL SHOCK TOUR DATES

May 5 – 7, 2017
Sweet at St Andrews Church, Brighton Fringe

May 10
The House, Plymouth

May 15 – 16
The Spring, Havant

May 28
The Northcott Theatre, Exeter

May 31 – June 3
Chesil Theatre, Winchester

June 8 – 10
Capitol Theatre, Horsham

June 11
Arts Theatre, London

June 12
The Gulbenkian, Canterbury

June 20 – 22
The Old Market, Brighton

June 29
West End Centre, Aldershot

June 30
Mumford Theatre, Cambridge

July 28
Tower Theatre, Folkestone

August 12 – 27
Edinburgh Fringe

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