The Two Worlds of Charlie F is a rare example of a play in which fiction and reality collide to create something very special indeed. Coming to Edinburgh after a successful UK tour, Owen Sheers’ work is a powerfully stark yet strangely life affirming look at the lives of servicemen and women injured in Afghanistan, their lives altered irrevocably by the conflict. The horror and the camaraderie, the pain and the triumph are played out through choreographed movement, verbatim drama and enacted flashbacks.
Whilst this alone has the potential for brilliance, what truly sets this production apart is that the cast is made up of genuine, former soldiers, wounded in battle and now recounting their stories. To glean such insight into the realities of life in the armed forces made for an incredibly affecting experience. Writer Sheers conducted detailed interviews before putting pen to paper and it shows; the play is coated in a sheen of authenticity of which most can only dream. The acutely observed dialogue is a joy, exquisitely reflecting the raucous nature of barrack room life. That Sheers has managed to capture something of the sense of walking in two worlds, never at peace in either is nothing short of genius.
Stephen Rayne’s direction is also a triumph, featuring astonishingly ambitious sequences with a large ensemble cast when you consider that the majority of the cast were first time performers, four of them leg amputees. Rayne sets the stage for a electrifying two hours with a magnificent opening scene in which the titular Charlie F, a silhouette in a hospital bed behind a paper panel, hurls abuse at his carers, hallucinating that he’s been imprisoned by the Taliban. It’s a visually sumptuous moment, indicative of the bold, full blooded approach to lighting and sound design that’s been taken.
The performers themselves deserve all the plaudits being heaped upon them. In lesser theatre, the often amateur delivery and occasional fumble over lines would be a source of derision, but here, they’re the beating heart of the show. You’re deeply aware that nobody on stage is truly acting, so faithful is this production to the veracity of their experience. Make time to see The Two Worlds of Charlie F, not only does this bleak, funny, beautiful play encapsulate the best and the worst of human nature, but it will stay with you forever.