As I waited for Warheads to start, I tried to think of any theatre I had seen before that could be considered even slightly pro-war.
Needless to say, this wasn’t to be the first answer. In fact, if this production were to be shown to every kid in secondary school, the army’s ranks might be drastically reduced.
And it does deserve to be put on in schools, as well as venues larger than London’s Park Theatre. This is thanks largely to co-writer and lead actor Taz Skylar. He plays a not entirely likeable British soldier who comes back from Afghanistan with severe PTSD, instilling the character with the sort of bottled menace that would make Stephen Graham feel on edge.
Backed by strong performances from a mostly inexperienced cast of five, it powers along with the tightness of a military drill and packs a lot into 85 minutes – sentimental flashbacks, hazy dream sequences and intense conflict scenes that make clever use of lights and sound sampling.
These are characters you don’t see on stage that often, immature recruits who have signed up to the army due to lack of other opportunities in life.
Skylar and Ross Berkeley Simpson have given this overlooked group a convincing script that never veers into condescension and that treats mental illness in an unremitting but non-sensational manner. You can see the influence of the art psychotherapist who was enlisted to help with preparations for the show.
As a debut production, it’s a supremely commanding effort from Skylar that tackles a timely subject with confidence.