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Ross Ericson's play at the Park Theatre is "bristling with tension and squaddie humour" and will "leave you reeling", says Vicky Ellis

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Alex Ferns and Finlay Robertson
Anyone who has seen Band of Brothers or a half-decent war film will be familiar with the closeness, intensity of comradeship and daily shaves with death that come with fighting in the Army. But the familiar phrase post-traumatic-stress disorder (PTSD) can't doesn't convey the half of it.

Bristling with tension and squaddie humour, new four-hander Casualties in the exciting opening season at Park Theatre in Finsbury Park is a nail-biting exploration of this - but far more than a one-dimensional shoot-em-up.

Staged in traverse with one side of the stage sandy desert and the other a placid kitchen, action switches from one to the other, ramping up tension each time, aided by the one hour, forty minute running time with no interval.

Alex Ferns, once so terrifying as wife-beating Trevor Morgan in Eastenders is excellent as Gary, the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) defuser who is itching to get back to the frontline, away from the "dull" home life with wife Emma.

His Scottish burr brings wry texture to lines like "She married you for the same reason all women marry men like us, the same reason they buy shit cars. They like the paintwork. Trouble is they don't know what might be under the bonnet".

He gets back to "Afghan" fellow soldier Mike (Finlay Robertson) whose PTSD symptoms shout loud and clear he should be as far away from fighting as possible. Robertson's soldier is both embittered and panicky, mouth gaping when the shock hits. The pair's banter to cope with the stress flows easily, even when relations become strained.

Emma Stansfield as Gary's wife Emma is effortlessly natural, eyes shining, holding her own under what gradually emerges as an impromptu inquisition by stiff-upper-lipped Investigations Officer Peter (Patrick Toomey). Their flawless, often Pinteresque brusque exchanges in the kitchen are as interrogative and unnerving as An Inspector Calls.

The play doesn't delve directly into what life is like for soldiers back in the UK suffering with PTSD or severe injuries, but Ericson's message is unmistakeable - what these men (and women) do for a living goes unappreciated by their seniors, a waste of life which stretches beyond the frontline.

Casualties is perfectly executed, stridently directed by Harry Burton and will easily leave you reeling.

- Vicky Ellis


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