The Two Worlds of Charlie F: A journey of discovery


“I need more mongness from you,” director Stephen Rayne calls across the hallowed, ancient auditorium of the Theatre Royal Haymarket.

On stage a group of injured soldiers – rehearsing a scene portraying the zombie-like state brought on by their medication – grin back in acknowledgement. To Rayne, more used to dealing with thespians from the Royal Shakespeare Company or National Theatre, the soldiers’ classic slang “mong” is novel.

“I have a new vocabulary of expletives I would have never had before,” he adds.

For the accomplished director, The Two Worlds of Charlie F – a play written about the experiences of wounded soldiers and acted by them - has been a unique and emotional experience. He started with group of 20 nervous, reticent and severely wounded soldiers – many amputees - and had just a few weeks to direct them to a standard worthy of a West End play. And today they will stand up and perform to a packed house.

“To begin with they were fairly reticent. They are soldiers and they don’t want to make fools of themselves,” explains the director. “They are now in a position to stand up in front of an audience and say look at me. This is who I am and you have got to accept it. I am not going away and there are going to be more like me.”

His description is matter of fact until asked what it has been liked to watch these young men and women, all dealing with severe pain, develop on stage. Eyes watering he fights to compose himself, before forcing out the words: “It has been extraordinary.”

 “The fastest growing regiment in the army are the injured. Whatever you think of the war in Afghanistan, these guys are 20, 21 and have come back with life changing injuries. They are amongst us and we better get used to the fact they are a tangible part of our society.”

Rayne’s journey of discovery began over the summer when Sir Trevor Nunn – with whom he had co-directed several plays - asked whether he would get involved in the project.

The result is a brutally honest portrayal, which touches on subjects as sensitive as civilian casualties in Afghanistan or lack of sexual interest after a severe injury. On stage soldiers in wheelchairs discuss the stumps of amputated legs or the break down of their marriages. The play veers almost drunkenly from subjects of abject horror to wonderful light hearted moments and banter.

The Two Worlds of Charlie F – a nod to the military term Charlie Foxtrot (or clusterfuck) for everything going horribly wrong – will have two West End performances today before the company hopes to take it to the Edinburgh and Hay festivals as well as on tour.

Rayne was drawn in by the prospect of something completely fresh. He literally started with a blank page as he and playwright Owen Sheers interviewed soldiers about their experiences serving in war zones, being injured and then beginning the fight back to recovery. The result was all their stories woven around the central character Charlie Fowler – played by a charismatic 30-year-old Royal Marine Lance Corporal Cassidy Little, who lost his right leg after being blown up by a roadside bomb serving with 42 Commando last year.

“I told them create a character similar to you but not you, which allowed them to talk personally about their experiences but in the third person,” explains Rayne. The title refers to the two worlds of “going into the army one person and coming out somebody else”. “When you have been on active service, been shot at, killed people and seen people being killed around you, you cannot see the world in the same way, psychologically and literally.”

Intriguingly Rayne decided to weave music and dance into the story. Subjects such as combat stress, nightmares and insomnia are dealt with in song. A heart rending monologue by Little describing how he is “broken” and suddenly a member of the “freak show, circus” of the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre, turns into a physiotherapy dance routine before a sudden explosion thrusts the audience into the horror of Afghanistan and a scene of civilian casualties.

Created in partnership with the Haymarket theatre’s Masterclass Trust, the Royal British Legion and the Defence Recovery Capability, The Bravo 22 Company project was developed to empower those dealing with the recovery process and facing life outside the military. As well as acting, servicemen and women have been helping with back stage roles.

Used to working with professional actors, the director admits that the project was challenging initially, dealing with young servicemen and women who were on so much medication that they could pass out on stage or coped at times with psychological trauma through drink.

“A lot of them have cut back on their medication (to stay focused) so they might have to leave the rehearsal to smash a wall because they are in so much pain,” says Rayne.

But equally he adds it has been refreshing experience: “With these guys there is no bullshit. I told them I want to hear your voice, to hear the real truth and that is so rare, to hear an honest record of an experience that is not going through the filter of an actor.

“People have not heard from the ordinary soldiers. So very, very rarely with a play do you do something when you think this is vital, this is necessary.”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star