By My Strength

Laura Stevens
Claire Evans in association with the Women and War Festival and the So and So Arts Club
The So and So Arts Club

Larner Wallace-Taylor as Kat Credit: Greg Goodale
Larner Wallace-Taylor as Kat Credit: Scott Rylander
Larner Wallace-Taylor as Kat Credit: Scott Rylander

Kat Crawford is a soldier. “You’re a freak,” some people tell her. It’s not something girls do. “You’re a murderer” she gets from some folk. She doesn’t usually go out in uniform and, as she’s telling all this, she gradually puts it on, and then her kit. She tries to remember why she wanted to join the army and goes on talking about life in the service, about being at war in Afghanistan.

Standing in the queue at Tesco’s, she’d thought how shit was life stuck on the checkout. The estate agent receptionist job she got was better but not one interesting thing happened while she was there. When they asked would she like to train and qualify to be an agent, she decided she needed to do something that really mattered. She’s thought about the army, even visited a recruiting office to check things out.

She fantasised once about declaring independence and setting up her own country: Crawfordstan. There would be equal share for everyone, a sort of communism, it would have a government and a constitution and an army to defend it: “I will make you safe by my own strength" was the Crawford family’s motto she discovered.

That you sign up to kill or be killed doesn’t seem to have been part of her thinking. There is a graphic physical sequence of violent psychological and assault training but she says you don’t think about killing people or dying, though she does think about the possibility of rape.

That’s obviously not in her mind when she’s sharing a tent with six blokes, blokes who encroach on her space with their stuff and draw cocks all over her things, like Ike the cook who insists on being called a chef and who’s a sort of boyfriend.

It’s her gun though that she sleeps with. She’s a first class markswoman and loves her weaponry, especially her big gun with its 35lb shells and 17km range: that ‘s a thing of beauty.

This is a fascinating piece of writing. It feels totally honest: one woman’s view of life in the military that in 80 minutes takes the audience to Afghanistan and back again. She is spirited and caring, misses her late dad (“he was lovely but a racist,” pity about that but brought up with old attitudes). A little naive perhaps but interestingly she wonders whether the person who designed her gun just thought about making the mechanism work well or designed it to make it a more efficient killer.

Larner Wallace-Taylor makes Kat so lively and engaging that this 80-minute play seems soon over, though it has packed a lot in. It is a marvellously sustained performance which Charlotte Peter’s production supports with subtle lighting changes (Becky Brown) and a music and sound design by Tom Sayers. It is a fluid production that constantly refocuses attention and always sustains interest.

By My Strength is part of the Women and War Festival and performance times vary from day to day and may be at 1PM, 3PM or 7PM in the So and So Theatre Space.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton