Chrysalis – ‘Sheep’ – Traverse Theatre

Traverse Theatre’s ‘Sheep’ follows the modern day experiences of women with husbands on the front line, and is less ‘keep the home fires burning’, and more ‘start a new, non-home oriented fire whilst the men are away and see what happens.’

Jumping from a Scottish kitchen to a barracks as well as backwards and forwards in time, a tragic picture of the mere death and destruction of war is painted, and although the play is at times grating, aimless and stereotypical, it is also often moving, offering a positive, feminist spin on the female significant others’ experience.

Moving, offering a positive, feminist spin on the female significant others’ experience.

Divided into 9 parts, a prolonged funeral scene opens the play dramatically and effectively. We see a group of women dressed in black attire support one member amongst them who is especially devastated, and the simple, low lighting combined with the choral music in particular was a highlight. Jumping for the first time into the Scottish kitchen post-funeral, key themes are touched upon: the idea that the women wanted their deceased husbands/boyfriends/fiancé’s to go to war, and that they are left as collateral damage at home, and that because the experience of loss is so common, they don’t really have a right to be sad about it.

…the women wanted their deceased husbands/boyfriends/fiancé’s to go to war, and that they are left as collateral damage at home, and that because the experience of loss is so common, they don’t really have a right to be sad about it.

In line with modernity, social media is used on stage by the characters, and this, for me, really didn’t work. Some of the women were portrayed as selfie-obsessed narcissist millennials regaling stories of people tweeting through a funeral, which was frankly grating. This oft-used stereotype, that young people are glued to their phones/are superficial/have completely forgotten how to behave seriously is simply untrue, and needs to fade as a comedy tool. However, other moments of humour from both the women and the boyishness of the barrack comrades helped dilute the seriousness of the subject matter, although sometimes overly-so.

[The] oft-used stereotype, that young people are glued to their phones/are superficial/have completely forgotten how to behave seriously is simply untrue, and needs to fade as a comedy tool.

The barrack scenes were thought-provoking, and although a sense of blokey-ness was sometimes overplayed, the soldiers’ three strong performances were surprisingly moving. Whether it was watching the shyer soldier receive a parcel from home, or teach his laddish comrade to waltz, or our witnessing the death of one during the heat of war, it was impossible to not feel attached to the three in scenes that were at times electric.

…it was impossible to not feel attached to the three in scenes that were at times electric.

The play managed to convey the sense of desensitisation that we feel when it comes to war. Whether it was the women appallingly watching Saturday-night-style TV show ‘Dress for the West’ or making tasteless puns about death and guns, though exaggerated, we saw a shocking parallel to some thoughts that we might be ashamed to admit that we think regularly. A particularly moving flashback scene saw the two men proudly tell their girlfriends, with illusions of heroism and grandeur, that they had signed up to the army, and wasn’t that exciting? A poignant moment towards the end sees one of the women tell the others she has signed up too – shocking because we shouldn’t be shocked by the prospect of gender equality.

…we saw a shocking parallel to some thoughts that we might be ashamed to admit that we think regularly.

Although too much time was spent on the shallower aspects of the characters’ natures, it was in the final quarter of the play that the writing shone and left a remarkably moving impression upon myself and, I think, the rest of the audience. Culminating in an ironic recital (by the newly signed up woman) of Siegfried Sassoon’s ‘Glory of Women’ (You make us shells. You listen with delight/By tales of dirt and danger fondly thrilled./You crown our distant ardours while we fight), the play could finally be understood. Firstly, that the impact of war doesn’t have to be gender specific: to quote R.E.M., everybody hurts, with a busy, bloody battlefield leaving behind a wasteland of empty villages and towns with empty women living in them. Secondly, why we put ourselves into these positions of such hurt: are we merely cannon fodder, dying in a ditch in the false hope we will be remembered gloriously? Are we, in the end, just sheep?

Firstly, that the impact of war doesn’t have to be gender specific: to quote R.E.M., everybody hurts, with a busy, bloody battlefield leaving behind a wasteland of empty villages and towns with empty women living in them.

https://www.traverse.co.uk/

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Lucy Davidson

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