Re-Live: Abandoned Brothers
Chapter Arts Centre
14th June 2012
Every actor gets nervous before a performance. What if you forget your lines, what if a particularly moving scene threatens to overwhelm you, what if the audience don’t react in the way you expected? These fears are even more immediate for the ‘performers’ in Re-live’s Abandoned Brothers. Not trained to perform on the stage but trained for combat in our military services, these brave war veterans bared all onstage to try and raise awareness of the crippling illness that has dominated their lives for years – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
These two real veterans stood in front of a sell out audience with just their wife and aunt there beside them for support. Occasionally a whispered reminder from wife to husband would help keep the performance on track. A hand placed lovingly on an aunt’s shoulder to guide her back to her chair evoking more emotion than the most convincing actor. It was clear that although these men had seen horrific things during their service tours these women still see equally as horrifying things in their own homes. A suicidal husband, unable to sleep, dosed up on sedatives, with night sweats and an alcohol problem. There is very little support available out there for these broken men and even less for their families who are often torn apart by this cruel illness.
It was hard to believe as one of the men told us he had not been outside for more than twelve months before the Re-live support group was set up. A natural born performer, witty, charming and charismatic, a strong and emotive singer. It was difficult to imagine this man home alone, with only a bottle of Jack for company.
The two men’s stories were expertly woven together with linking music provided by an acoustic guitar played live on stage whilst a projection screen showed pictures of the men’s past or art they had created as an outlet for their anxiety. Additional stories were included via voiceovers, these were just as moving as we heard from more men and women affected by PTSD.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder occurs when someone is exposed to a traumatic event that their brain cannot process properly. They are forced to re-live the original trauma through flashbacks or nightmares. Other symptoms can include difficulty staying or falling asleep, anger, hypervigilance, avoidance of any stimuli that may be associated with the original trauma, becoming emotionally numb and depression. It is easy to see why so many sufferers turn to substance abuse and why their relationships fall apart leaving them alone and helpless.
In a post show talk more veterans with PTSD took to the stage and what followed was an illuminating and worrying debate. When asked who these veterans felt abandoned by; the forces, the government, society or the NHS?; the answer was hard to swallow. They felt abandoned by all four. As soon as they are diagnosed with PTSD the forces effectively wash their hands of any involvement with the veteran and leave the funding for their care to charities. The government are to blame for instigating the violence that they are forced to re-live. Society withdraws from them, afraid and ignorant. And often the NHS doesn’t have a clue how to treat them. There is nothing on their records to say they are a veteran so often a diagnosis can take months and misdiagnosis happens all too often. When they finally get to see a psychiatrist they are told they have “ten minutes”. How can you convey all of the horror of war and the subsequent years of suffering in ten minutes?
At first I was not going to review this production. It is not theatre in a traditional sense but more storytelling and I didn’t know where to start. I originally saw the performance as research for a role I am playing myself and didn’t feel comfortable reviewing real people who have been brave enough to re-live their trauma for a curious audience. Having had a few days to fully comprehend what I witnessed I feel obliged to write something of these inspirational men and women to continue raising awareness. Someday soon hopefully this awareness will turn into action. These broken families need more support, more understanding and more help. In England there are four residential centres for PTSD sufferers to go and share their experiences and receive treatment, in Wales there are none. Their biggest fear is the “tidal wave” of PTSD suffers that will hit Britain after the end of ‘The War on Terror’. Our soldiers continue to fight long after they have left the battle field and sometimes the condition can lay dormant in their minds for years.
I have been humbled by these courageous veterans and their relatives. Not just because they have had the guts to get on stage and share their harrowing trauma but because each one of them said that they would go back and serve their country time and time again despite the hell they continue to live in. I genuinely wish them the best of wishes for the future and I hope one day they will find some peace. Thank you Re-live for bringing this massively ignored problem into focus.
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