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Missing in Action (tour – Colchester, Mercury Theatre Studio)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Regrettably, we have become used to the newscasts of the bodies of servicemen killed in Afghanistan being repatriated through Wooton Bassett. Perhaps we think momentarily about the traumatic effect these deaths have on their families and their comrades. Most of us then go onto the next crisis being unveiled on television or in our own homes and give these matters little more thought.

Brendan Murray's new play Missing in Action forces us to think again, and more deeply. The story of two young tearabouts who join up, are posted to Helmand Province and the aftermath of that is puncuated by war poems by Kipling, Housman and Wilfred Owen among others. This threnody comes from a shambling homeless hard-drinking figure who once was the young Darren (usually known as Spider).

Darren's friend Chris has been killed on active service. It is not just his mate who has to come to terms with this death and Darren's reaction; Chris' mother, Darren's wife and baby daughter are also affected. We learn that the key incident which sends Darren on his downward spiral is the sight of a child killed in one of those “collateral damage” incidents. In his grief for Chris this other death assumes an almost mystic proportion.

Darren as a young man is played very effectively by Paul Valentine with Paul Huntley-Thomas as the older Spider. There is a very simple set by Sam Pine, which works very well. The direction is by Mary Swan and the soundscape by Paul Wild. Lorraine Moyneham's choreographed and stylised sequences don't really add anything to the unfolding of this tragedy.