Review: LEAVING VIETNAM, Park Theatre

A Vietnam veteran finally confronts his past in Trump's USA

By: Mar. 21, 2023
Review: LEAVING VIETNAM, Park Theatre

Review: LEAVING VIETNAM, Park Theatre Jimmy has been making and mending cars for years, overalls on and hands dirty, an industrial job in a post-industrial USA. He's embittered about being left behind and he's angry about something else too. All the years of not talking about it bubbles to the surface when a 'dead man' tracks him down to his workshop and long buried trauma must be faced at last.

Richard Vergette's monologue (he is both writer and performer) gives us a story focused on an ex-Marine but also tells a wider story of how democracies treat veterans of unpopular wars.

It was coincidence I'm sure, but press night came at the end of a day in which many British soldiers who served in the second Iraq war (which started exactly 20 years previously) had spoken in the media of their difficulties in reintegrating into civil society and that sense of emptiness without glory. 'Nam, of course, is the prime example of a war a nation would like to forget, one in which the heroism is washed away by atrocities and defeat.

Vergette gives us an engaging subject. Jimmy ('Dutch' to his fellow Marines) is defined by more than his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, more than the stereotype of the MAGA white guy from the Midwest and that's important because it's just as easy to take individuals from non-minority groups and drop them into a box of prejudices as it is to do the same for minorities. We get a man who is not a monster but, with his name on their lips, cynics promote monstrous policies and, as on January 6 in Washington, conduct monstrous actions, something his wife calls out, leading to personal conflict decades on from military conflict.

That said, I wondered why this 70 minutes long piece, a hit at the Edinburgh Festival, warranted a three week run in London. Despite the interest stirred by Ken Burns' epic The Vietnam War, for anyone under 70 the events are before their time. The themes of the play and some of the narrative of Jimmy's life were also covered 44 years ago in Michael Cimino's movie, The Deerhunter, for many an introduction to the updating of shellshock into the more comprehensive PTSD. As was the case in that film, one wondered why the millions of Vietnamese victims of the conflict were given so little space in their own country's story. Others will be reminded of Lieutenant Dan from Forrest Gump.

For all the craft evident in its construction and delivery, we're left with a familiar American tale with neither its other, Asian, side fully explored nor its relevance to the UK's fracturing social and political environment drawn explicitly. They are the writer's decisions, but it feels like a missed opportunity to explore something more grounded in the perspectives of 21st century UK than in that already explored extensively in 20th century USA.

Leaving Vietnam at Park Theatre until 8 April

Photo Credit: Jane Hobson


Photo: First Look At Ivano Turco In EVERYBODYS TALKING ABOUT JAMIE Tour Photo
Photo: First Look At Ivano Turco In EVERYBODY'S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE Tour

Everybody's Talking About Jamie, the smash-hit and critically acclaimed musical, has to released a first look at Ivano Turco (Get Up, Stand Up!, Cinderella) as Jamie New.

Full Schedule and Presenters Revealed For West End LIVE 2023 Photo
Full Schedule and Presenters Revealed For West End LIVE 2023

With only a week to go until West End LIVE, the final details have been revealed for this free annual showcase, celebrating the best of London's musicals. Produced by Westminster City Council, in partnership with Society of London Theatre, West End LIVE has been a highlight of the theatrical calendar since 2005 for theatre fans across the country and further afield.

The Other Palace Reveals Dates and Lineup For MAKING A MUSICAL Podcast Photo
The Other Palace Reveals Dates and Lineup For MAKING A MUSICAL Podcast

The Other Palace has announced the dates and musicals featured on each episode of Season 3 of Making a Musical: The Future of British Musical Theatre. Featuring music and exclusive interviews with the writers, the relaunched podcast is curated and hosted by director Alex Jackson and The Other Palace Programme Manager, Kiki Stevenson.

Raymond Coulthard and Hannah Morrish Join Tracy-Ann Oberman in THE MERCHANT OF VENICE 1936 Photo
Raymond Coulthard and Hannah Morrish Join Tracy-Ann Oberman in THE MERCHANT OF VENICE 1936 UK Tour

Casting has been announced for a ground-breaking new production which transports one of Shakespeare’s most enduring classics to 1930’s Britain – The Merchant of Venice 1936 - which will embark on a UK tour this Autumn, beginning at the RSC’s Swan Theatre from Thursday 21 September. 

From This Author - Gary Naylor

Gary Naylor is chief London reviewer for BroadwayWorld ( and feels privileged to see so much of his home city's theatre. He writes about ... (read more about this author)



Recommended For You