Sunday, 23 June 2013


Park Theatre, London


Written by Ross Ericson
Directed by Harry Burton

Alex Ferns and Emma Stansfield

With the opening of the brand new Park Theatre being only an (arguably long) stone’s throw from Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, Finsbury Park now possesses the two finest sources of sporting and cultural entertainment that North London can offer. This elegantly designed purpose-built theatre, comprising two bars, two auditoria and an open airy design with wifi throughout, is a pleasure to visit and augurs well for becoming a new artistic focal point for the capital.

Casualties, staged in the smaller Park 90 theatre, marks this website’s first visit to the venue and is also the first London production of a Ross Ericson play. It’s a gritty tale of two soldiers, Gary and Mike, Gary’s wife Emma, and a military police officer or Redcap, Peter.

In a traverse staging, designer Katherine Heath has split the performance area into two sets. One half is the UK domestic kitchen of Emma and Gary, whilst the remainder is sand strewn, representing various locations in and around Camp Bastion, the British Army’s HQ in Afghanistan. Ericson stages the plays movements through various time shifts, frequently switching between UK and Helmand Province, as his tale unwinds and the reason behind the Redcap’s presence is gradually revealed.

Ericson's chosen canvas though is too broad. He has sought to encompass the violence of war and the soldiers’ terror of the Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that they face alongside a love triangle, jealousy and there’s more than a nod to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder within the plot line too. That’s a lot to cram into a 90 minute one-act piece for any writer let alone a novice and Ericson stumbles when it comes to credibility and subtlety. The hint of the love triangle is slipped in almost clumsily early on in the piece amidst circumstances that are both barely believable and also far too obvious, whilst the sketching out of the Redcap, and his closing act denouement seems to have been written from a far too shallow perspective. So, whilst some of the writing is indeed funny and perceptive, overall Ericson can do better.

If the play is a 3-star vehicle, some of the acting is 5-star brilliance. Alex Ferns is Gary, a robust action-man of a soldier who lives for the army and loves the craic of military life and active service. His performance is convincing and believable and when we see him, in full combat gear, attempting to neutralise an IED, the nail-biting suspense amongst the audience is almost unbearable. Finlay Robertson’s Mike seemed to be an awkward performance in the play’s opening movements though he becomes more assured in his role as his character is fleshed out, whilst Patrick Toomey’s Redcap is just a little too stilted throughout albeit his character is the most poorly served by the Ericson’s text. It is down to Emma Stansfield’s take on Emma to give a performance that  is heart-breakingly scorching, initially in her scenes with her husband, but mainly in her response to the dissection of her intimate personal life by the Redcap, amidst the deceptively re-assuring surroundings of her own kitchen, over cups of tea. Her expressions of pain, indignation and humiliation are very nearly amongst the best to be found in town.

Harry Burton’s direction is an assured job and notwithstanding its flaws, Casualties still makes for a stimulating night of drama at what will surely prove to be one of London’s most exciting venues.

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