Review: This Is Not For You (Greenwich and Docklands International Festival)
Graeae team up with a group of veterans to celebrate those injured through war
"At the setting of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them." As twilight descends on Artillery Square in Woolwich, Graeae and a company of disabled veterans ask who and what we tend to forget. The injured aren't named on war memorials. The cenotaph doesn't stand for the sacrifices they've made. Only the dead get tributes like that. This stage offers some kind of redress.
On a mock parade ground in front of Royal Arsenal, the company fall into formation and march. An uneven parade, not quite in step. Some limp slightly on titanium legs, others swing arms that stop at the elbow. It's an arresting sight and a poignant one: these broken bodies doing what they trained to do. They're proud and defiant, but the act also sharpens the sense of loss.
In remembering their exercises, these ex-servicemen and women recall their old, uninjured selves. When they stand to attention and identify themselves by name, rank and impairment, they're both insisting and ensuring that we not forget them. "Don't feel sorry," they say, "Don't feel guilty. Just don't turn away."
This Is Not For You co-opts the lexicon of remembrance to interrogate the act itself. Poems, by Mike Kenny, have an emotive simplicity. Oliver Vibrans' choralsong drifts down over the square and troops march in tribute to those that survived.
Yet there's no hint of jingoism here, no celebration of war, heroics or nation. Jenny Sealey's direction is more sceptical than that, and a long list of battles, Passchendaele to Helmand, suggests that we might talk of remembrance, but we return to war. The imagery lingers – bare scaff structures trigger tanks, trains and trenches in our mind's eye – but the agony fades.
Not for those whose bodies bear the brunt, who fought for "the peace that left [them] in pieces." A jaunty music hall number knocks military pensions that divvies up compensation by the damage done: "Paralysis chest down, 90 per cent. Arm below elbow, 50 per cent." Even that neglects those with invisible injuries, shellshock and PTSD; those damaged by memories they cannot forget.
This Is Not For You is more powerful when at its most present. As part of the 14 – 18 NOW programme, marking the centenary of the First World War, it dramatises the horrors millions incurred, but it's those still living and still living with war that make the most impact on this outdoor stage. As the title implies, this show is for them.