“Love Is A Battlefield” – Pat Benatar
Plays about the aftermath of death, especially for soldiers and people who commit suicide carry with them a certain level of expectation in terms of gravitas and weight of responsibility. On the surface, Old Sole Theatre Company’s Glockenspiel sounds like it might be like Bruce Norris’ Purple Heart... But Glockenspiel is very much it own thing. As if to acknowledge the enormity of the task ahead, the play doesn’t jump straight into the heart of the story, but takes its time. Several sets of people are introduced whose stories over the course of the play dovetail into each other and with those of the serviceman whose lives they are mourning – an emotional version of La Ronde.
Introducing the theme of disconnection from those supposedly closest to us, we meet heath care professional Debra (Tolu Stedford) and her once-close friend Yolanda (Laura Asare). Across town, assistant professor Josh (Jon Parry) and his wife Zinnie (Coren Lawrence) are getting ready for her brother’s funeral. While Josh repeatedly feels the need to apologise for not being gentle in bed the night before, Zinnie’s thoughts are understandably elsewhere. Both Zinnie and Yoland find solace at the funerals talking to two people involved with the funeral preparations, but not part of their circle of friends: Andre (Parys Jordan) a funeral director’s assistant and Carmen (Lolade Rufai) – an honour guard who takes part in the folding of the US flag at funerals for (ex-)military personnel. While initially the nexus between all the characters in the play, they have their own story to tell too, illuminating certain events.
If the first half of the play takes its time with the introduction of characters, the second half of Glockenspiel dives head first into the messy lives of the mourners, proving that ‘grief’ makes strange bedfellows – a certain amount of ‘sleeping with the enemy’. While the unseen deceased soldiers endured mixed fortunes upon leaving the military, they made an impact, for better or worse, on those closest to them. Eloise (Katie Glaister) felt like a widow long before her husband’s actual death, as she felt he left an important part of himself behind in the theatre of war. So she looks for ‘solace’ elsewhere… Conversely, widow Justine initially met her husband when she was a journalist and he was a decorated officer. Far from driving them apart, the military campaigns brought them closer together, with Justine able to understand at some level the things her husband wrestled with and give him the courage to leave.
Of all the characters written, the one that is the most complicated and makes the longest impression is Carmen. While her vehemence to extoling the virtue code and honour in the military would fit right in A Few Good Men, her objections to the decisions her father made (to leaving the military) are more akin in spirit to Brabantio in Othello, who questioned whether the Moor seduced Desdemona or vice versa.
In conclusion: Glockenspiel is an ambitious play and tries to dovetail three very different takes on the circumstances of serviceman and their respective loved ones. Each pair of characters could have had a play solely written about them, dealing with their specific predicaments. In servicing so many stories and giving them a limited amount of time, one utimately feels that there is much more that can be said on the subject of war and its relation to identity, duty and love. Certainly a promising jumping off point with potential for further development in the future.
© Michael Davis 2017
Glockenspiel runs at Tristan Bates Theatre until 4th February 2017.