With war, especially living in the west, it’s easy to build up the idea of war being separate to the lives that we live. War is always painted as being very ‘black and white’, there’s this idea that there is ‘good versus evil’, and that it is the absolute last resort to dissolve political and social ills. War is a bold term, however when broken down, many humans beings are risking their lives for the greater good. IdeasTap Underbelly Award winner Giles Roberts focuses his latest piece, Much Further Out Than You Thought on a soldier’s life after war, placing a human face on a widely reported but often misrepresented term.
Hi Giles! You’re set to perform your new piece, Much Further Out Than You Thought at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. How are you feeling ahead of the festival?
Understandably nervous, yet growing in confidence day-by-day. The process of development and refinement is still very much present in rehearsals, but now all the technical elements are being introduced the show is really starting to mesh together.
Much Further Out Than You Thought was one of four shows to win this year’s Ideastap Underbelly Award, how does it feel to be a recipient of the Award?
Obviously it’s an honour. We (the theatre company – theMolinoGroup) have long been excited by the play and its possibilities but for the guys at IdeasTap and Underbelly to see fit to give us their support has ratified our confidence in the show, as well as providing us with a great platform to ‘get it to market’. Hopefully we’ll do them proud and make Much Further Out Than You Thought a success.
Your production is very timely, as it places a soldier’s life after war at the forefront. What inspired you to create this piece?
The idea for the play initially sprung from watching a 1980s documentary entitled Four Hours in My Lai: an account of a massacre on a village carried out by US soldiers during the Vietnam War. It was an operation that resulted in the death of hundreds of men, women and children, many of whom were killed in the most barbarous ways. Discovering that this event had actually taken place was horror enough but what resonated with me strongly were the personal testimonies of the soldiers who had participated in the operation. It was plain to see just how broken these men were, how detached from the everyday they’d needed to force themselves to become once returned to their domestic life. I wanted to find a way of exploring the trauma of a (fictional) soldier in a way that would tell the story in a less obvious way than a simple personal account of his front-line experiences. I took the essence of what I’d seen in the veterans in the documentary and moved it to a contemporary setting.
How did you approach writing Much Further Out Than You Thought?
I began with the element of the story that I could write most easily about – the father-son relationship at the core of the play – and then expanded from there. There was a lot of research to be done into the world of the soldier, during training and combat operations, specifically tied to the situation faced in Afghanistan. Added to that was an investigation into the triggers, effects and consequences of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We’ve been fortunate to have received invaluable input from a handful of veterans during the development and rehearsal process, so as to ensure a firm grounding in reality and perhaps even a reflection of personal experiences.
With themes of war, masculinity, memory and loss, your play covers a lot of ground. What would you like for audiences to take away from your production?
We would like people to see that a soldier does not only exist in uniform. It’s not a case of feeling negativity towards the desire of these men and women to go off to fight overseas, but we need to understand that the experiences they have on the front-line — which us ‘civvies’ will never come close to experiencing — have long-lasting ramifications. As the statistics for PTSD among veterans in the UK demonstrate, leaving war behind is far easier said than done. War and conflict, unfortunately, are undeniable facts of life. We do not have an anti-war agenda to push with the play, we only want to highlight the personal traumas that those things can foster; that however armour-plated a soldier is forced to become, his or her humanity remains inescapable. We hope that vitality of the story that the play tells will shine through, and also the story-telling itself. It’s an uncomfortable experience yet we hope a compelling one. And we think that’s exactly what theatre should be.
Last year marked the centenary of WWI, and also saw the removal of UK troops within Afghanistan after 13 years of warfare. How informed do you believe the younger generation are in regards to the consequences of war now compared to 1914?
The myriad charities that have sprung up over recent years offering assistance to veterans post-conflict suggests that there should be much more awareness of the possible consequences. However, at the same time there seems also to have been a counter-drive by the MoD to deflect attention from these efforts. It’s been noticeable that there has been an increase in recruitment advertising, as well as approaches direct into schools with ‘teaching guides’ and the growth of cadet forces, and also the celebration of national events such as Armed Forces Day. It is becoming ever more popular to view our servicemen and women as some kind of superheroes. There’s a danger that young people – eager and malleable – might be swayed by an unbalanced view of what it is they are joining up to.
Who else are you looking forward to watching at this year’s festival?
Definitely the other three IdeasTap Underbelly Award winners: The Eulogy of Toby Peach, Brute, and The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Family. I will also be checking out Tether by Isley Lynn, which looks into the story of a blind marathon runner and her guide. I’m sure I’ll be kicking around a lot at Summerhall as their programme is always brilliant. And Daniel Kitson, obviously.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Write. If you’ve got something you want to say, get it down. It might come to nothing. But it could be something. And it will always lead you on somewhere else.
Interview by Lucy Basaba.
Much Further Out Than You Thought will be showing at the Underbelly Cowgate from Thursday 6th until Sunday 30th August. For more information on the production, visit here…