Writers: Handheld Arts
Directors: Alexander Garfath &Sarah-Jane Wingrove
Reviewer: Iain Sykes
Paper Tom is based on a most interesting premise. The team from Handheld Arts researched and compared the effects of World War I shell shock and the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder suffered by modern day combat troops in the Middle East. The resulting sixty minute play interweaves the story of WWI soldier, Tom (Richard Simons) and modern day combatant, Richard (Steven Rodgers) and their respective descents and failure to adjust back to society after their return home.
This is a whole lot to squeeze into an hour and, although Handheld Arts make their point that not a whole lot has changed in the past century, the play does feel slightly superficial, as though we’re only skimming the surface of the raw emotions involved in the tales. The only bit of real raw tension between the characters bubbles to the surface in an exchange between Richard and his wife Rachel (Sarah-Jane Wingrove) over origami pigeons, a motif that becomes the running theme in Richard’s post-service life. The rest feels too stylised to draw the audience in. A WWI trench warfare scene transposed with a soldier teaching another to waltz should have hit the target but didn’t, probably due to the time constraints that we didn’t get to really empathise with any of the characters involved.
Sarah Jane Wingrove also played the very much underused character of Tom’s wife, Lucy. A character who briefly appears at the start of the play and then only appears in Tom’s narrative pieces to the audience about how his life has failed, as he sits on a lonely park bench, swigging from a hip flask. For a play which has as one of it’s major themes, the breakdown of relationships, this again felt very superficial. On a technical side though, the use of paper wielded by the other actors, as projection screens all over the stage was very effective.
In Paper Tom, Handheld Arts make a valid and interesting point in how little support exists for returning soldiers. But a more detailed and emotional play, not trying to cram the lives of two soldiers into an hour, could have been much more effective.