"Immature attempt at liberal preaching"
by Edwin Reis for remotegoat on 21/02/15

In the week that the Homeless Veterans Appeal has raised over £700,000 to help the men and women who have tragically lost their way since retiring from the Armed Forces, this new piece by Kevin Lee could not have been timed more aptly. Set in the aftermath of a memorial opening for a young man who died in Afghanistan, an old friend returns from the wilderness, to the general vexation of the deceased’s family.

An intriguing premise, sadly not capitalised upon. Lee’s script is immature and demonstrative, with one-dimensional characters and exposition-heavy dialogue. The actors, too, leave a lot to be desired – often inaudible and constantly afraid to commit to the (admittedly forced) drama. Menelaos Karantzas’ messy direction fails to extract any sustenance from the flawed text, and Nick Gott’s undetectable design neither complements nor juxtaposes the style of the piece.

The evening begins huddled against the bannister on a cramped staircase beneath the Curtains Up pub, rubbing shoulders with confused beer-guzzlers as they descend in their herds to the urinals below. Once seated, we observe a small stage, scattered with litter, which is duly cleared away by Lesley Molony’s Joan, the archetypal grieving wife/mother, as the final stragglers dash in from the lavatory. The Barons Court is a captivating theatre, with atmospheric arches and audience of varying depths on three sides. This is an awkward space for the actors to gauge, but nevertheless, the lack of basic technique on show is disappointing. Having to fend off the boisterous ruckus above, Jenny Coyle, as the wispy Sophie, fails to grab our attention, and from then on is engaged in an uphill struggle to command any sort of stage presence. Neil Hobbs’ Jim fulfils the role of ‘old-fashioned, stuck-in-his-ways patriot’, and after a couple of lines we have seen about as much character development from Jim as we will for the entirety.

Duncan Mason as Billy, the rehabilitated soldier, is the only ray of sunshine. He injects some much-needed energy, and manages to bring depth and credibility to a character that may as well have been named Kevin; rarely has a writer’s voice weighed so heavy on a piece. Every character speaks as if they are on a therapist’s chaise lounge. There is no subtext; any opportunity to speak results in a spew of opinion or shallow reflection. Scenes go round in circles, with often the same point being made five or six times. Lee is trying too hard, and the result is a repetitious, irritating narrative. Clichéd, soap opera-esque techniques fail to captivate (dramatic monologue time! How cathartic!), and the false stakes and lack of urgency ultimately leave the climactic moments feeling empty and awkward.

The intention behind ‘Time For Heroes’ is admirable, but with such a sensitive topic, a degree of maturity is required. How a Homeless Veteran would find the piece, I couldn’t say. But with its pseudo-liberal, sentimental simplification of the complex state of the British Armed Forces, I somehow doubt it would go down too well.

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