BWW Review: WARHEADS, Park Theatre
Miles and Mory, two naïve young men who think they have nothing to lose, join the British Army at 19 years old. They come back home tour after tour feeling less than themselves. Miles especially is suffering as his crippling bouts of PTSD start corroding his relationship with his girlfriend Tena and his approach to civilian life.
Taz Skylar debuts as a playwright aided by Berkley Simpson with an insecure play about war and the invisible wounds left by combat directed by Toby Clarke. Warheads is a slow burner that has a regrettably simplistic script but that owns a couple of momentary gems, making it a frustrating project as a whole. Skylar also takes on the role of Miles, the handsome chav who slowly starts to lose the plot.
As writers, he and Simpson juggle the timelines seamlessly but introduce characters that are generally too two-dimensional, even in their not understanding the gravity of the situation. Clarke does, however, a spectacular job with the direction. He employs music and lights (the latter design curated by Roly Botha) to play with time and space, moving the actors through battlefields and streets of London and present psychological strain and internalised horror vividly.
Sophie Couch is the preachy and unprofessional therapist who forgoes sectioning the protagonist in order to help him, even when he clearly is a danger to himself and others, while Klariza Clayton is Tena. Let's say that the female representation in the piece isn't overwhelmingly positive, with the latter acting as a horny caricature of a woman who exists solely in relation to her boyfriend.
Hassan Najib is Miles's friend, who swings between simple sweetness of character and trying to help as much as he can. The real scene stealer is Joseph Connolly, a textbook exacerbated comedic relief, his gayness might be played for laughs and his flamboyancy is turned into the butt of the joke but the actor is the only one who displays a solid range of emotion.
Skylar himself takes a while to come around to finally deliver a satisfying performance. Starting off by mumbling unnervingly, he only rises to the occasion towards the end. It's clear that he understands what his character is going through but audiences don't: he's been with Miles long enough first through writing and then as an actor, but he fails to convey this fully to his public.
What Warheads does well is to suggest the nature of toxic masculinity and the dangers of it. It's hinted that Miles and Mory have grown up playing Call of Duty and shooting guns, picturing soldiers like heroes and dreaming of a glamourised kind of combat but this doesn't come off too well in the final product.
The company also raises awareness of PTSD and the rehabilitation of war veterans. They shine a light on the effects of modern warfare and the importance of giving appropriate help to those coming back from war zones, but their take on the issues look as if they've been learnt by hearsay. They're not truly analysed in depth nor told through an engaging script, remaining on a surface level and not delving into the core issues of the problem.
Clarke sugarcoats a text that's flawed and in need of more development. The material is challenging and touches a few raw nerves but it's not stable nor cohesive. A light refurbishing might be needed to have the writing match the direction and turn Warheads into the sharp and provoking critique it strives to be.
Photo credit: Marcus Kartal