Shell Shock

Based on the novel by Neil Blower Watkins
Mountain Hare and Smokescreen Productions
Assembly Roxy

Shell Shock

Trauma will likely ever be one of the fundamental driving forces behind storytelling. It's perhaps because of this that theatre has long had a fascination with the lives and experiences of soldiers and other military personnel. In these more enlightened times, the terrible effects of PTSD are far better understood than in the past, and yet often the biggest hurdle to those suffering is accepting the problem.

In Shell Shock, Tim Meriott plays the role of Tommy Atkins, leading the audience through the pitfall-laden journey of his return to civilian life after leaving the services. Of course, after an initial period of welcome rest, it becomes more and more clear how ill-fitted Tommy is for the bureaucracies and niceties of his day-to-day life, as the unseen damage to his psyche begins to break through the cracks in his denial. Piece by piece, his constantly simmering rage and inability to connect to others strip away the good things in his life, leading down a road that points to tragedy and pain. Meriott is believable enough, with a nervous energy that belies the gentle demeanour that he has, making the moments of true anger and outburst all the more powerful.

The story is taken from Neil Blower Watkins's book of the same title, and itself draws on both his own experiences as well as others to create a gestalt story that echoes and mirrors the struggles of many. It's perhaps because of this that there is a somewhat predictable feel to a lot of the events. This isn't helped by the play being somewhat too long for the runtime, making it feel breathless as Meriott barrels through vignettes, leaving little time for many statements and scenes to gestate for full effect.

The final result is still a captivating and worthy piece of theatre, one that touches and hopefully educates with hope and not despair. That itself may be worth more in the end than it cementing itself as some newly profound or extraordinary new idea.

Reviewer: Graeme Strachan