By Isabella Fraser
In this, the one hundred year anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, the ‘war to end all wars’, there have been several plays about WWI and WWII in the Fringe. However, this play from Scottish BAFTA New Talent Award Nominee Joe McArdle, is about the Iraq War and in many ways it questions what has been learned from the legacy of war. Set in 2008, it looks at the perspective not only of soldiers in the British army (two Scots and an Englishman), but from an Iraqi native who has a foot in both camps – he is in the land of his birth to bury his parents, but has lived and worked in Glasgow more than half his life.
McArdle’s heartfelt and down-to-earth script gives life to fleshed out three-dimensional characters: these men are not stereotypes. Through a combination of McArdle’s raucous language, powerful performances from the four-strong cast and deliberately honed and well-crafted direction from Andrew Byatt, a picture builds of an on-the-edge volatility that threatens to explode at any minute. Rivalries abound, all of which circle heritage and a sense of belonging: in this foreign country, the question of what the men are doing there is explored, as well as how this correlates to their pasts.
Byatt’s choice in setting this play in the round is effective, allowing immediacy: the audience circles the heart of the action. Soldiers fight in front of you; stand with guns in front of you; tell you about their lives. The audience itself becomes hostage, unable to escape what is right in front of them. Entrances and exits are broken parts of this circle, weaving in and out, the action never letting up. Craig Anthony-Ralston (Andy) and Ryan John Managhan (Ed) are heart-breaking as the two young soldiers facing up to the reality of war, overseen by Stephen Clyde (Dave), the fierce sergeant, who is scarily believable as the bigoted and cynical commanding officer. The gentle intelligence of Atta Yaqub’s Salam is all the more devastating when this non-soldier becomes a casualty of war.
The ending is not unexpected but not entirely believable as is although McArdle has indicated that text had to be cut for this Fringe version, so the longer version may give more credence to it. With this piece he has created a sympathetic and compassionate look at the effects of war on both sides of a conflict and asks us to examine what war means – what cost the price of peace?
A Game of Soldiers runs until 23 August at Lauriston Halls at 16.00. Running time is 1 hour.