National Theatre (venue)
02 March 2017 (released)
05 March 2017
Much of her body, and half her face burned in an IED in Afghanistan, Jess returns to her small home town in Florida, to live with her sister and undergo virtual reality therapy. She only went on one more mission to help support her mum who is in residential care and quite simply, because she was good at her job.
Lindsey Ferentino’s play explores why people (a woman in this instance) go into combat - usually for mundane not heroic reasons and the experience of living with visible life changing injuries and chronic pain afterwards. Kate Fleetwood (Jess) gives a nuanced performance of the mental and physical pain of a young woman facing an unmapped future, trapped in a new body that she doesn’t recognise.
The great strength of Ferentino’s writing is the shared humour between the characters, the loving connection that ripples beneath the disappointment and rage. Sister Kacie (Olivia Darnley) is doing everything to help her sister return to life but drives Jess mad with her obsession over quantities of broccoli. Her new boyfriend (Kris Marshall) is happily unemployed, endlessly positive and determined to sell himself to Jess, ‘I’m young, I’m cool, I’m not on Viagra, I’m a catch!’
Projected across the vast space of the Lyttenton stage is an image of a depressed town built by NASA after the war, unemployment high and shops closing now that funding for the space race has been cut. Ralf Little as ex-boyfreind Stevie has a childlike charm, aware of his own limits as he settles into a dull job and a loveless marriage. Nothing and everything has changed between him and Jess as they head onto the roof together to watch the final rocket launch from the nearby NASA space station. As they reach for each other, the blast triggers a terrifying flashback and we have a brief glimpse of ‘old Jess’ in ‘action’. Once again she is issuing orders under heavy fire.
The inspiration for the play and what makes it ‘of the moment’ is the Virtual Reality therapy Jess has been offered. As the snowy landscape Jess imagines is projected across the stage, at last she can run and jump again. But the limits are palpable and in some ways limit the drama itself. Jess’s therapist remains a voice-over throughout, and restricts her exploration of Jess’s experience to 1-10 answers on the level of her pain. This is frustrating for Jess, who some days cannot bear to give a number and frustrating for an audience missing out on a potentially far more complex therapist/client interaction and a window into Jess’ life-changing trauma.
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