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Home arrow Archive: Earlier Fringes arrow Archive: Edinburgh 2011 arrow Go to Your God Like a Soldier
Go to Your God Like a Soldier
Published on Tuesday, 16 August 2011

3 stars

Underbelly, Cowgate (venue website)
4-16, 18-28 Aug, 2:40pm-3:35pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Recommended for age 14+ only.

The damp, vaulted innards of the Underbelly aren’t a comfortable place to be; at least, not while you’re waiting for this ambitious play to start. A low throb from a speaker rattles your spine, and a portentous mist hangs in the air. But then, as the lights go down, four soldiers burst in – and suddenly we’re transported to a simple classroom in Afghanistan, where the British squaddies have holed up after an ambush outside. Alone, but not forgotten, they must hold out till help arrives… and in this moment of drama and emotion, tensions and unspoken terrors begin to emerge.

The moral dilemmas posed aren’t subtle ones – within minutes, we’re discussing whether it’s OK to shoot randomly into a crowd – but the panicked, claustrophobic setting we find ourselves in lends a whole new perspective. You can sense the soldiers’ fear and, if you sit at the front, you can smell their sweat. Delirium Theatre have made a big play of the fact they’ve worked with real servicemen while developing the piece – and true enough, there was an air of desperate authenticity about the barricaded school, which made the answers to those questions suddenly less simple than they’d once appeared.
To my mind, though, the numerous flashback scenes were much less successful. The soldiers’ personal histories are predictable, arguably even trite; there’s the rootless wanderer, the absent father, the commander subtly damaged by something he once saw. Most interesting, perhaps, there’s the woman from a military family, whose presence raises challenging questions about whether all soldiers should be treated the same – but that issue, once raised, is never spoken of again. Worse, the flashbacks interrupt the psychological intensity of the battle; and the constant sound effects as we zoomed from scene to scene were a bit reminiscent of Spooks, rather than the serious and realistic drama this sets out to be.
Still, this doesn’t take anything away from the cast, who handle themselves and their props with appropriately military precision. They shift the schoolroom’s desks to make offices, mess-halls, beds; the choreographed movements are impeccably rehearsed, and the actors flit between roles with practiced ease. It worked well when it stayed unobtrusive, but a couple of overt physical-theatre interludes sat less comfortably with the generally naturalistic tone. At one point I was actively confused, unclear whether a bomb had gone off inside the schoolroom or they were simply remembering an episode from their recent past.
Go To Your God Like A Soldier is a slick production, and there’s huge potential in the clammy, breathless intensity of its central scenes. But with one shocking exception (you’ll know it when you see it), the script held few surprises.  And while it flirts with deep issues, its conclusions are predictably on-message, right down to the Afghan girl we see inspired to wonderment by a map of the world.
Despite all that, there’s one question which will unfailingly hold your interest: do these soldiers go to their God? Well, the ending’s neatly done, drawing the threads together in an elegant montage. But I’ve said enough. I think I’ll leave it there.

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