Syndrome

Tina Jay
Jack Brett Anderson, Tina Jay and Mont-Dore Anderson
Tristan Bates Theatre
to

Surely we must wonder why the government has failed to establish, or even try to establish, the causes of Gulf War Syndrome, a set of life-changing symptoms that have afflicted many of those who were sent as military personnel to the Gulf War in 1991.

Deno (Kerim Hassan), one of the soldiers in Tina Jay’s play, has a simple answer to that. He angrily calls it a “cover up”. Given his difficult medical condition and the death of friends who had been posted with him to the Gulf of 1991, his anger is understandable. But we don’t get that anger till the second half of the play.

His mood, his attitude is very different in the first half of the play when we see him alongside three other soldiers on Gulf combat duty, where boredom seems to be their biggest problem.

He and Ray (Romario Simpson) spend their time in laddish banter, much of it about their interest in having sexual encounters with women. Occasionally, they break the monotony by teasing a third soldier Gabe (Akshay Kumar).

Gabe is withdrawn, spending his time sketching, still in a state of shock and guilt about something in his recent past.

A fourth soldier, Matt (Robert Wilde), senior in rank to the others, watches on, trying to discourage the teasing of Gabe. On a night patrol, he and Gabe will become a lot closer.

Although there is much in this script that seems to promise dramatic opportunities, from the issue of potential government abuse to the trauma of war and the risks involved in having a same-sex relationship in the military at a time when it was banned in the UK, none of this seems to catch fire.

The first half gives too much space to establishing the boredom of combat preparation with inconsequential sexist banter, while skimming over too quickly a number of very significant plot developments involving two of the characters.

The second half takes us to their civilian life of five years later, when the Gulf experience is playing out with debilitating effects on the memories and mobility of Deno and Ray, while a highly specific memory of loss haunts and quietly obsesses Matt. Although there are moments that really grab our attention, too much of the dialogue seems artificially staged.

This is a play that deals with issues that need to be explored; I only wish it had done so more effectively.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna