Paper Cut - Park Theatre
The deep trauma of war and brotherhood laid bare
With the hindsight knowledge of how the Afghanistan conflict concluded, Andrew Rosendorf’s play is both crushing and poignant. Telling the story of soldiers returning from the conflict, notably one coming to terms with the changes that an IED has inflicted on his life and body. It poses impossible questions about those willing to serve and even die for their country whilst the institution they pledge themselves to outlaws their existence, banning them from service if they are truthful about their identity and truthful about being gay.
Played out amongst hanging light bars, the intimate space is mostly bare, placing the performances and language firmly on display. Rosendorf’s writing is nicely calibrated and delivers some strong characterisations that assist in building a healthy foundation for many of the actors’ performances, though it could do with acknowledging the wider context and implications a little more to assist in grounding the piece more comfortably. It tackles dark and weighty topics that are not fully explored and there is clear scope for it to expand to ask the bigger questions and challenge the rules of the time.
Callum Mardy leads the proceedings as Kyle a wounded veteran who is transitioning to civilian life and a life without his legs. Mardy remains deliberately cold in much of his performance, untrusting of those around him, both in the scenes before and after the meeting with the explosive device. Sadly Mardy’s characterisation is limited, whether that be through script or performance it is hard to say. He is perpetually sullen with little hint of variation, angry at all the wrong people and unaware of the true cause for his suffering - the system that has failed him. He forms a close bond with Chuck (Prince Kundai) and the pair strike up a semi-relationship whilst in a remote base in Afghanistan equally fearful of the consequences if their fellow soldiers find out and the risk of not saying what they need to say with the possibility of death present every day. Kundai is headstrong as Chuck, far more confident in himself than Kyle and Kundai is able to push those emotional beats effectively as the stakes climb higher - a standout performance.
Joe Bollard delivers a pinpoint precise performance as Kyle’s brother, managing years of hurt and anguish towards him whilst doing his best to support and care for him - an excellent casting choice. Completing the cast is Tobie Donovan, as Harry an old classmate of Kyle’s. Donovan is darkly funny in this role, blindly affectionate and oblivious to the world around him. He brings welcome lighter moments but equally provides a quiet conflict and brutality as the play progresses.
The variations of brotherhood of display in Paper Cut are a welcome sight to be explored, the conversations they have the potential to spark are timely and important - the weight of which was felt by the audience as heard through the collective exhale as the lights went down for the final time. But there is more to develop and more pressing questions of it to ask but the potential on display is not to be understated. The fantastic sound design from Chris Warner elevates the piece and nicely frames the action but there remains an incompleteness to the play. A great night of theatre nonetheless that succeeds in leaving a lasting impact and I hope to see it developed further.
Running until 1 July - Tickets
Photography: Stefan Hanegraaf