Much Further Out Than You Thought is a one-man show which tells the story of Lance Corporal James Randall, who finished his tours of duty in Helmand six years ago. It is Remembrance Sunday, and he is in his living room in south London recording a birthday message for his young son, surrounded by childhood toys and memorabilia. As the narrative progresses, it becomes clear that James is suffering from PTSD, and the audience learns how the collision of civilian Britain and front-line Afghanistan can lead to catastrophe.
I met with writer and actor Giles Roberts after the play’s preview at the Old Red Lion in Islington. A charming and interesting man, he is as sympathetic and likeable as the character he portrays with such expertise. Giles was quick to point out that Much Further Out Than You Thought is not intended to be anti-war propaganda – it is the individual story of a single soldier. He does, however, object to the glamorisation of the army which appears to be taking place recently.
Although James Randall is fictional, Giles did have the help of two soldiers as consultants when he was writing the play. He got the idea after watching a 1980s documentary called Four Hours in My Lai, about a massacre by US troops in Vietnam. The personal testimonies of the soldiers particularly resonated with him, and he began to try to empathise with how an act of killing must irreparably alter a person, and how it influences them in the future.
We talked about the timelessness of the situation: young men are trained to kill, but what happens to that training when they come back home? There has been a lot of talk about World War I in the last couple of years, and shell-shock cases have parallels with current incidences of PTSD. But Giles emphasised that warfare is more asymmetrical now: there are no longer two rows of trenches and the enemy can be anyone and anywhere. This causes the combatants to develop a sense of hyper-awareness, which, unfortunately cannot be easily turned off when they return to civilian life.
Despite having several writing credits for spoken word, Much Further Out Than You Thought is Giles’ first play. As an actor, trained at the Oxford School of Drama, he has many credits to his name. The play is directed by Bethany Pitts, and Giles spoke of the short rehearsal period with a director he already knew very well, and how interesting it was to come at the material from two different angles. Much Further Out Than You Thought is the winner of a 2015 IdeasTap Underbelly Award. With IdeasTap sadly having to close, Giles and Bethany will be among the last people to benefit from their invaluable help.
Much Further Out Than You Thought is at the Underbelly Cowgate (Big Belly), 56 Cowgate, Edinburgh, EH1 1EG, from Thursday 6th – Sunday 30th August 2015 (not 17th), at 3.20pm. It is produced by the Molino Group. For more information visit The Molino Group.