‘Britain has armed forces in many countries. Their partners are waiting at home for them to come back. Some listen to the news, some don’t. Some have affairs, some don’t. Some sing in choirs and put on a brave face, some don’t. All of them find a way to get on with it.’
It began with chatting – to women who had been married to men who had gone to war.
Most of us with partners say goodbye to them when they go to work, but we know that they are going to come back – not so if you are a ‘military wife’. It soon became clear in my conversations that the pressures on the pair of them – the wife and her man – were immense, extraordinary and not at all like civvy street. I soon knew that I didn’t want to write about what it was like being ‘over there’: there are lots of documentaries and pieces of semi-fiction that have covered that. But the stories of the women who watched their man go, spent time thinking, wondering, hoping, coping whilst he was away, then experienced him coming back home, were vivid, inspiring, and largely untold.
I had a few basic questions:
What was it like before he went?
What was it like saying goodbye?
What was it like once he’d gone?
What was it like the moment he came back?
What was it like after the first buzz of his return had passed?
I heard stories of love, hate, betrayal, uselessness, kids, mates, denial, madness. The stories are varied and never simple. I don’t tell all of them – that would be impossible.
Writers tell stories that fascinate them, that connect with their own lives and that touch the big things in life. What Victoria and Louise and Katie and Collette and dozen of others told me was the stuff of all great stories. Actually, not stories, but real lives at times of immense change.
The Man Who Left is Not the Man Who Came Home is a piece of theatre. It takes place in a theatre space in front of a theatre audience. It has props and lights and sound and has two actors who work using all the tools of naturalism and realism. There is real food, real objects, real costumes, and naturalistic – often verbatim – dialogue. But I’ve tried to make it very obviously a piece of theatre. It is not a thing that you’d see on TV or in a film. It works in the unique ways that only theatre can. It has real scenes that really happened to women I have met, but the play also breaks the fourth wall and has scenes that are not at all naturalistic.
Also there is a third person, a real army wife called Sam, who tells her own story. This runs parallel to the action performed by the two actors. Sometimes it overlaps and intersects, sometimes it contradicts or doesn’t seem to connect at all. It is a real story told by a real person in the midst of a theatrical production that also tells real stories.
Writer & Director, The Man Who Left is Not the Man Who Came Home
The premiere of ‘The Man Who Left is Not the Man Who Came Home’ is in the Tindle Studio on Wed 26 February at 7.30pm. Book tickets here.
Kevin Dyer (Writer and Director), Stephanie Greer (as Chloe) and Sam C Wilson (as Ashley) in rehearsals, February 2020 © Alex Harvey-Brown, Savannah Photographic