I read a tweet recently suggesting that people with mental illness should just ‘take a walk’ and ‘get over it’. Its author clearly had all the grace and intelligence of the President Elect, and probably originated from the same pre-historic period…

Some years later in 1678, when most of Trump’s ancestors were already fossilised below ground, advances in thinking resulted in a deeper understanding of mental illness. Indeed, the collection of symptoms we now know as PTSD were termed ‘homesickness’ or ‘nostalgia’. How very quaint.

Brave soldiers who were struck down with ‘homesickness’ and ‘nostalgia’ were also considered weak. No doubt by individuals who hadn’t even a fraction of the life experience that the soldiers had under their military belts.

But, as our little friend on Twitter says, all anyone with mental illness need do is ‘take a walk and get over it’. Hmm…

If you haven’t lived with mental illness can you really understand the impact? And if you haven’t lost friends and family in battle, seen extreme violence take place right in front of your eyes or feared for your life on a daily basis, can you really imagine how you might cope with the aftermath?

Wor Stories is a play based on the lived experiences of members of Bravo 22 – a company of ex service personnel and their families who have shared their stories (as well as a few centuries of military history neatly packaged into quick bursts of speech) with audiences at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle.

Not only have they been brave in sharing their personal experiences, they have also taken to the stage themselves to bring these stories to life…

So Wor Stories isn’t performed by professional actors, but given the authenticity, passion and camaraderie on the stage you’d be forgiven for thinking the cast have come straight out of RADA!

We learn about perceptions of mental illness in the forces, about the bond that is built between soldiers on the front line, and about about the families who support veterans through their mental health struggles.

We also get a glimpse into what daily army life is like – friendships, banter, insomnia and arachnophobia, as well as the random conversations you have to pass the time (including a hilarious debate about a camel’s comprehension of a rifle). A very funny script and some brilliant comic performances add the lighter touches to this poignant play, while at the same time reminding us that soldiers are an important part of a whole other life that has to carry on regardless while they serve their country.

Written by Gary Kitching and directed by Chris Connel (yes – I do know him pretty well!) the contrasting stories and experiences follow a narrative that takes us from when the soldiers first  join up, to what happens after they leave the forces. Some have hope, some experience pain and loss, and some are destined to live with the impact for the rest of their lives. An impact they are shouldering because they did what many of us would find unimaginable. That they did for all of us.

The short scenes are simplistic in style. Some pull you right into the heart of deeply personal, life-changing experiences, while others generate a huge buzz of energy as the soldiers bond over insults, bad jokes and nicknames. Oh, and there’s Shakespeare too. You get a lot of bang for your buck in this roller coaster ride of laughter, tears and discomfort.

So to our little friend on Twitter, think twice before suggesting anyone with mental illness simply ‘takes a walk’. These guys probably already did that one day – only they came back minus a friend, a limb, their happiness or their mental health.

Wor Stories – Theatre Royal Newcastle until Saturday 10th December

To read more about the project, Bravo 22, that is supported by the British Legion, click here


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