The veteran project named ‘Theatre of War’ has recently been set up alongside Harry Potter star Jason Isaacs as a rehabilitation programme for veterans in Britain. With the use of performance readings of Ancient Greek plays, the program aims to aid veterans in their recovery of war.
Statistics on mental health research, more specifically Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, suggests approximately 10% to 18% of troops may be likely to have PTSD after their return, as well as coping with confronting their state of mental wellbeing.
This year saw the mark of the 70th anniversary of VE Day in which the country has demonstrated a large support for veterans. The Queen joined approximately 1,000 veterans in a service before a military parade that took place through central London. This anniversary, along with government implemented War Pension Schemes, have been detrimental in aiding individuals with recovery, as well as an easier transition into civilian life. The theatre programme aims to contribute to this by raising further awareness on this topic as well as uniting communities through the arts.
The event taking place within the Southbank Centre was inspired by a concept carried out by classicist Bryan Doerries which had originated in the US. Doerries states this artistic form of Ancient Greek play readings took place in order to support military veterans “deal with the invisible” affects of their experiences. Doerries goes on to state his motivation for the program grew from his experience in reading as a classicist, stating, “I had a conviction that these ancient plays [might] speak to a wider audience” and describes the veterans as being “ripped from the pages of Sophocles” themselves. Following its success, the US format is planned to be replicated and commences in London as a free event for veterans as well as their friends and families. It plans to include a selection of simple staged readings of plays from Sophocles to Philoctetes emitting props and costumes which may be a contribution to the overall dramatic affect.
Additionally, the choice to proceed the readings with open ended discussions aims to support individuals reflecting as well as voice their experiences. In creating this safe space the program appears to aim for a healthy and open dialogue surrounding the consequential impact of war and in turn, encourages a process of closure and acceptance to its individuals. The founder Bryan Doerries goes on to suggest the philosophy rooted from this program. “Theatre [may be unable to be] about holding up a mirror to the audience and saying this is you,” says Doerries. “I believe in distance rather than documentary.” This may suggest the plays are intended to inspire individuals, provoking an organic response that addresses their own experiences and emotions of possibly fragmented memories.
The concept of utilising Ancient Greek plays from 450 BC into a contemporary setting, highlights many ways in which art of all periods can often be transhistorical. John Isaacs highlighted this by stating its intended effects have the potential to be “extraordinary”. John Isaac states “It reminded me of the power of storytelling and why I got into acting. Something written 2,500 years ago [is able to] be so contemporary and speak the language of the soldiers in front of you”, Isaacs added that people felt “it was written about them.”
The story of Ajax further illustrates this, as the play itself represents a Greek warrior during the Trojan War and combines the challenges of being a great warrior with the humane feelings of vulnerability; something veterans may identify with today.
The program’s utilisation of art as a form of recovery and rehabilitation may see individuals identifying and reflecting via this medium, and has the possibility to bring to light global alternatives to conventional and costly ways of rehabilitation such as therapy and medical care. Likewise, the success of the program may further encourage a larger engagement with the impact of war as well as encourage individuals to assess the way in which art may function within society as a form of recovery. For further information on this event, visit London Southbank Centre online.
How might art function to aid recovery?