How do you handle your 8.45 meeting when your husband is in a firefight with the Taleban on Breakfast News? Can six months respite from shaving your legs ever make up for half a year spooning a hot water bottle? These questions and others are answered in a revealing new play about Britain’s homefront in 2012 which is to be staged in Ilkley.
While Gareth Malone’s Military Wives Choir has conquered the charts, Encore Drama is set to perform Jo’s War, a play about the wives’ experience of overseas deployments, which have followed back to back since the Iraq invasion in 2001.
The writer, Lucy Bell, is the wife of serving marine and she has stood at the sidelines during eventful tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. She wanted to write about the double life “forces sweethearts” take on, continuing with their own careers and lives whilst their worst fears for their loved ones are played out in 24 hour news.
“In 2006 my husband rang to wish me Happy Christmas sounding tired. I realised he had been leading a convoy of tanks in a raid that was front page news. It gives you a strange, out-of-body experience to have everything at stake in events that are just news to others around you,” she said.
The play is the moving story of the evolving relationship between a soldier’s girlfriend, Jo, and his mother, Sue. Jo is a Guardian-reading career woman for whom falling in love with a soldier is something of an unfortunate accident. Sue is a true blue patriot of the old school who thinks the world’s gone “squeamish”. They are thrown together by soldier Steve’s deployment with comic and explosive results. Fittingly enough for a play about military separation, we never get to meet the soldier himself.
Encore Drama is a company set up to promote new writing and has helped develop the careers of writers in West Yorkshire and now, nationally. Founder Colin Lewisohn said: “Jo’s War was the deserved winner of the first Ronald Duncan Playwriting Competition. Lucy has not only written a play of compelling intensity and rhythm but the message is loud, clear and long overdue – the homefront feels war’s wounds and scars and has done since time immemorial.”
It has been an enlightening rehearsal schedule for director Colin and cast, comprising a visit to wives at Catterick and Ripon Garrisons. Jenny Crowther, who plays Jo, was inspired by the women there.
She said: “They were such warm and open people. I hope I can do them justice in the play”
Rachel Vernelle, who plays the Steve’s mother, Sue, has enjoyed getting under the skin of her role. She said: “Sue’s is a voice we never hear – that of the mothers who keep things ‘normal’ for their sons and daughters when the situation they all find themselves in is anything but. The women we met inspired us with their courage to make the abnormal normal. The play reflects their lives authentically and honestly, because Lucy shares their experience.”
The tour of Jo’s War will visit theatres in garrison and naval towns from North Yorkshire to the South coast, where the cast hopes military families will make up much of the audience.
Jo’s War is at Leeds Carriage Works on Friday, January 27, and Saturday, January 28, at 7.45pm (tickets £10/£8 Box office: (0113) 224 3801), Ilkley Playhouse on Friday, February 17, and Saturday, February 18, at 7.30pm (tickets £8.50/£7.50 Box office: (01943) 609 539) and the Georgian Theatre, Richmond on Friday, February 24 at 7.30pm (tickets £7-£20 Box office: (01748) 825 252)