I’ve just finished a production called ‘Bully Boy’ by Danish satirist and writer Sandi Toksvig. Basically, it’s an anti-war piece that aims to wake people up to the plight of veterans, young and old.
Old man’s war, youth’s loss
Half of our audience at That Theatre Company productions is students between the ages of 16 and 18, and I was curious to see how they would react.
Whether it was due to the content or the intensity of the performance, I can happily report that I didn’t see one face lit up by the reflection of a mobile telephone, and that they were riveted during the 90 minutes it took to play.
Maybe it was because they could really relate to one of the characters: a 21-year-old ordinary soldier sent to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan (Toksvig never lets us know where).
A century since it started, I knew that students would be studying World War I and the poems and literature related to it. Maybe it might have sunk in that most wars are started by old people but fought by the young?
Worthy of your interest
For whatever reason, they allowed themselves to be moved by the story of how war-trauma or PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) can affect veterans at any time. I could hear them crying at some points. Fortunately Toksvig also provided us with some very dark comic relief to prevent the experience from being too heavy.
I met some veterans before and during the production. We were given permission to display our PR photos alongside a fantastically detailed exhibition about the involvement of Danish troops in the war in Iraq at Tøjhusmuseet (the War Museum).
It’s closed and being expanded right now, but I urge you to go and see it because it will give you a real close-up feel of a soldier’s life over there. It reopens on December 7, I think.
Veterans built it with materials from Iraq: the sand, the stones and the mud. There’s also an armoured personnel carrier that has been hit by a roadside bomb and a scattering of TV screens showing short films of soldiers brave enough to talk about their rehabilitation.
Ignored and isolated
The veterans I met during the run had one thing in common: they all felt ignored and isolated from the rest of society. The tasks they were asked to carry out, they feel, aren’t being acknowledged by their fellow Danish citizens. It’s as if they have basically wasted their lives – sometimes literally. It’s like the conflicts they’ve been involved in are somehow not noble enough or worthy of recognition.
This is obviously something that has to be addressed. Veterans need a voice and seem to have found one in Benjamin Yeh who has made it his business since serving in Bosnia to communicate his and his comrades’ feelings of desperation.
Berlingkse Tidende, a leading Danish newspaper, has announced he is the first of its ten nominations for its ‘Dane of the Year Award’. Good for them. It’s a start. I have plans of my own to try and help raise awareness, but this will be revealed in my next article.