TALK­ING ABOUT SHELL SHOCK... ON THE DUBBO STAGE

Dubbo Photo News - - Front page - By YVETTE AUBUS­SON-FO­LEY

BRI­TISH sit­com ac­tor turned drama teacher, Tim Mar­riott, never saw him­self play­ing a ca­reer soldier when he adapted a one man play, from the Neil Blower book, “Shell Shock: The Di­ary of Tommy Atkins”.

How­ever fate had dif­fer­ent ideas when, 48 hours be­fore a key per­for­mance for 300 vet­er­ans, an ac­tor hired for the role an­nounced he’d taken an­other job.

Af­ter a quick script re­write, the show went on with Mar­riott in the hot seat and to­day the play plays an im­por­tant role in ed­u­cat­ing and help­ing suf­fer­ers of Post-trau­matic Stress.

Mar­riott is per­form­ing “Shell Shock” on the Dubbo RSL Club Theatrette stage on Thurs­day, Oc­to­ber 4, as part of the Light­ning Bolt In­vic­tus con­voy sup­port­ing Post Trau­matic Stress Dis­or­der. That will be fol­lowed by per­for­mances at the In­vic­tus Games.

What was that first night like for you, play­ing Tommy?

I had no choice but to re­write the script as an older man – and hav­ing not been on stage for 17 years, and to go on stage and do it my­self was chal­leng­ing.

To say the penny dropped, how­ever, would be an un­der­state­ment. At the end there was a stand­ing ova­tion. (Though my lovely wife says they all got to leave as quickly as they could – laughs).

Through­out all my re­search into PTS and that sub­ject mat­ter, I hadn’t re­ally twigged that this hits peo­ple when they’re typ­i­cally seven to nine years out of the ser­vice; later in life, when you get older, even into re­tire­ment age, and you re­flect; that’s when the ghosts come to haunt you.

When I looked out at the au­di­ence I re­alised a lot of these guys were ac­tu­ally my age. The voice of the ca­reer soldier isn’t re­ally be­ing heard.

What do your au­di­ences say to you af­ter the play?

Peo­ple do like to talk to me which is fan­tas­tic. There was an evening there one night when a guy opened up to me, in front of his rel­a­tively re­cent girl­friend, and he started telling me about be­ing blown up in North­ern Ire­land. His girl­friend, who he’d been with for 18 months, said she’d had no idea.

Af­ter that he said he hadn’t spo­ken about it in 25 years.

Are you try­ing to start a con­ver­sa­tion about PTS?

That’s the ob­ject. That’s what we’re try­ing to do. Just get peo­ple to talk.

It’s not the guys who put their hands up and say, look at me, I’ve got a prob­lem, it’s the guys who, like Stand Tall for PTS founder Tony Dell, didn’t think they had a prob­lem. These are the guys we need to get to.

The play doesn’t end when the cur­tain goes down, is that right?

We tour with a coun­sel­lor, so for each show we do talkback ses­sions with them, and I’ve also got PTS vet­eran Gemma Mor­gan (quite well known in the UK). She’s part of the In­vic­tus Choir.

She’s tak­ing part in the Q&A as well. The show doesn’t end with the end of the show. It con­tin­ues after­wards.

How did “Shell Shock” at­tract men­tal health project fund­ing?

I had a young lad who had been at the school where I taught and he was a bril­liant young ac­tor, and I thought (he could help make) the play ap­peal to a slightly younger school’s au­di­ence and that I would do it as a young soldier. We took it to Ed­in­burgh last year and did very well. We got a grant from the gov­ern­ment to de­velop it as a men­tal health project with the mil­i­tary com­mu­nity and be­yond. Then, be­ing a young lad, he went trav­el­ling.

You’ve done a bit of trav­el­ling with the play your­self?

I took it to Ade­laide Fringe where I won The Sun­day Mail Best Solo Show. We then got picked up by the Bri­tish Army and we went to the Ed­in­burgh Fringe just re­cently, and did it in an army venue which was great.

What’s the tone of the play?

We en­gage through hu­mour. Some­body once de­scribed it as Michael Mcintyre ramped up to 11. My char­ac­ter Tommy com­ments on the ab­sur­di­ties of ev­ery­day life. He talks about Ikea, post of­fice queues, driv­ing, stuff that ev­ery­one recog­nises and is frus­trated by, and it’s comic to be­gin with but very quickly the au­di­ence can see this is not quite right.

When I read Neil’s di­ary I re­ally liked his “squaddy” hu­mour and the bal­ance with hu­mour even in the dark­est mo­ments. Neil writes as Tommy Atkins but it’s his di­ary, it’s his story.

He doesn’t want it to be about him, it’s about ev­ery­one who’s ever ex­pe­ri­enced stress and trauma; mil­i­tary, first re­spon­der – in life.

Is there some­thing in the play for any­one with PTS, not just peo­ple from the mil­i­tary?

This is a mil­i­tary story but it’s a me­taphor.

It’s not about the war, it’s about what can hap­pen when peo­ple come home when their war is over. It’s a glimpse into a world of con­fu­sion, doubt and dis­con­nec­tion.

Any­body whose ex­pe­ri­enced stress and trauma, and been through loss, will un­der­stand the story of Tommy’s frus­tra­tion and where he goes with it.

The great thing is it doesn’t end where peo­ple think it’s go­ing to end. It ends on an upbeat.

How did you come to write this play?

For 20 years I was an ac­tor in a sit­com on TV on the BBC, and af­ter that I found my­self do­ing pan­tomime, “oh, where are my trousers gone?”, that sort of stuff, which wasn’t mak­ing me ter­ri­bly happy. I got out, I had two small chil­dren and I loved see­ing them and hated be­ing away from them.

As a fam­ily man I got a fan­tas­tic job as a drama teacher in an in­de­pen­dent school. I thought I’d do that for a cou­ple of years and ended up do­ing it for 17! I did a bit of writ­ing to keep my­self go­ing.

Writ­ing this play was just by ac­ci­dent. I had writ­ten an­other piece, about Joseph Men­gele, that got a bit of at­ten­tion and be­cause of that I got ap­proached by a mil­i­tary pub­lisher, who also pub­lished Neil’s di­ary. He asked did I think it would make a stage piece. I read it and thought it was crack­ing, it was gold dust.

` It’s not about the war, it’s about what can hap­pen when peo­ple come home when their war is over. It’s a glimpse into a world of con­fu­sion, doubt and dis­con­nec­tion... a

Tim Mar­riott will per­form his play “Shell Shock” in Dubbo on Thurs­day, Oc­to­ber 4, be­fore tak­ing the per­for­mance to the In­vic­tus Games. PHOTO: SUP­PLIED.

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